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The Matrix

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After scoring an art-house hit with the small-scale, tightly plotted, highly enjoyable thriller Bound—which took off once the requisite overdone Zalman King-style lesbian sex had been taken care of—the Wachowski Brothers (Andy and Larry) have gone big, made a movie for über-producer Joel Silver, thrown in loads of special effects, and cast Johnny Mnemonic star Keanu Reeves in the lead. And damned if it doesn't work. In The Matrix, a surprisingly tolerable Reeves plays a pasty computer hacker who begins to receive mysterious messages from an unknown source. Shortly after encountering a bunch of identical-looking authority figures, he hooks up with a mysterious band of outsiders led by Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss (Models Inc.) who clue him in that nothing around him is as it appears. Story-wise, nothing in The Matrix will surprise too many people: In addition to resembling both in concept and content the worthwhile Dark City, there's not much more to it than ideas about the subjectivity of reality reworked from Descartes, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson and channeled into an operatic science-fiction metaphor about non-conformity (and drug use). But the Wachowskis do it so playfully well, keeping The Matrix's potentially confusing plot intelligible, intelligent, and suspenseful, that it doesn't matter. As far as sheer spectacle goes, it's the most exciting thing to come along in quite a while. Where other films are done in by the freedom offered by computer effects, The Matrix integrates them beautifully, making fetus-tending robots, helicopters gently collapsing into buildings, and elaborate, gravity-defying kung-fu fighting seem like perfectly plausible elements of the universe it creates, a universe that deserves to be seen.