It could be argued that a multimillion-dollar Hollywood movie lacks the moral authority to take a megacorporation to task for stealing ideas, repackaging them, and hurling the inferior, overpriced end product at a defenseless public. For what it’s worth, Antitrust goes about its winkingly transparent j’accuse with admirable aplomb. Stanford computer genius Milo (distractingly boybandy Ryan Phillippe) is lured away from his geeky friends and their garage-based start-up by the richest man in the world, Gary Winston, played by Tim Robbins under a cloak of Gatesian signifiers (small round eyeglasses, flattened forelocks, wrinkle-free slacks). Located on a sprawling Ballardian campus in the Pacific Northwest, Winston’s fearsome, Justice Department-flouting software titan NURV stands poised on the brink of a communications revolution with Synapse, a program that will link every electronic device on the planet via satellite and presumably prove even more scarily omnipotent than Internet Explorer.
In pretending to address the proprietary vs. open-source (i.e., freely distributed) technology debate, Antitrust defers to quasi-philosophical bromides (“Human knowledge belongs to the world!”) and vague, cool-seeming populism. Perhaps mindful of its inevitable hypocrisy, the movie softens its techno-utopian drum-beating and settles into routine round-robin paranoia. As computer programmers, including one of our hero’s principled old pals, start turning up dead, the plot hinges increasingly on the shifting loyalties and hidden motives of everyone besides Milo, including his doting artist girlfriend, Claire Forlani, and moody fellow NURV nerd Rachael Leigh Cook. The flashy topicality amounts to little, and Peter Howitt’s slavishly generic direction doesn’t help. But it’s a kick to see the Tim Robbins version of the man recently described by the Microsoft trial judge as “Napoleonic” installed in a disgustingly opulent Bond-villain HQ/pad, and the overwrought Boiler Room-meets-The Game scenario is not without its own schlocky pleasures.