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(1999) (Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne) (R)

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Sci-fi: A man who's discovered that his life has been nothing but a programmed illusion, sets out to defeat the forces responsible for that.
Neo (KEANU REEVES), a.k.a. Thomas Anderson, is a computer programmer by day and illegal hacker by night. He's recently been contacted by a mysterious woman named Trinity (CARRIE-ANNE MOSS) who informs him of something called "The Matrix," a mysterious entity of which he's vaguely familiar. That action leads to her near arrest by Agent Smith (HUGO WEAVING) and his government type thugs but she manages to escape. Now that they know about Neo, however, Smith and his team are hot on his trail.

To his aide comes Morpheus (LAURENCE FISHBURNE), an enigmatic cyber terrorist who's number one on Smith's most wanted listed. Morpheus gets him out, but then drops a bombshell into Neo's world. It turns out that everything Neo has experienced in his life has just been an illusion created by the Matrix, a device employed by a powerful and intelligent, but mechanized and artificial life form that's using enslaved, but unaware humans as its power source.

Joining Morpheus and his small team, which includes Trinity, Cypher (JOE PANTOLIANO) and a handful of other characters, Neo learns that he may be the chosen one to overthrow the artificial life form. After Morpheus trains Neo of the ways of the Matrix, he and the rest of the team return to that artificial, dreamlike world where dying in a battle with Agent Smith and his men means certain death back in the real, outside world.

If they're fans of Reeves, Fishburne, or action-heavy, sci-fi films, they probably will (with male teens being the most likely audience among kids).
For sci-fi violence.
  • KEANU REEVES plays a computer hacker who discovers that his world is just an illusion. Trained to defeat those who control the Matrix, he fights and kills many agents (although, of course, they're not actually real).
  • LAURENCE FISHBURNE plays his solemn and enigmatic mentor who hopes Neo is the chosen one to help their cause.
  • CARRIE-ANNE MOSS plays a mysterious woman who also fights the agents.
  • JOE PANTOLIANO plays a team member who tires of their grim reality and takes steps to return to his former illusional world.
  • HUGO WEAVING plays the lead agent who's determined to find and kill Morpheus and his team and thus maintain the status quo.


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    If you've ever had one of those vividly realistic dreams -- the kind that occasionally feels muddled and confusing but contains some moments that are truly exhilarating -- and where upon awakening you aren't sure if what you dreamt really occurred, then you'll begin to understand how you'll feel after seeing "The Matrix."

    Influenced by -- or more accurately, borrowing -- elements from other sci-fi movies such as "Total Recall," "Dreamscape" and the "Terminator" films, this picture may occasionally flounder and certainly won't appeal to all audiences, but it's certainly nothing short of a wild time at the movies.

    Simultaneously managing to be both high and low brow (the sci-fi concepts mixed with the thrilling action sequences), the picture is intriguing due to the former and enthralling due to the latter. Despite occasionally being laborious at times -- particularly once the "secret" of the Matrix is revealed -- and extremely campy at others, the film features some spectacular visuals and elaborate action sequences that easily make up for its more lackluster moments.

    While women have their "chick flicks" (weepy romantic comedies or dramas), the typical guy loves action-laced films, especially the ones that, upon their conclusion, make you walk with a confident bravado and drive home and act like you're the movie's hero. This is clearly one of those adrenaline pumping films.

    All of which is somewhat surprising considering that the previous film from co-writers/directors and real-life brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski was 1996's cult hit, "Bound." A steamy and violent, but contemporary throwback to the kind of suspense films that Alfred Hitchcock used to make, the film was an imaginative piece of work with topnotch writing, directing and a unique visual style courtesy of cinematographer Bill Pope who also shot this picture (as well as "Darkman").

    If Hitchcock was the inspiration for "Bound," then a mixture of sci-fi novelist Philip Dick (who wrote the stories that later became "Total Recall" and "Blade Runner") and bullet happy action gurus Sam Peckinpah ("The Wild Bunch") and John Woo ("The Killer") clearly influenced this one. For all of the thinking man's material that's present, there's twice as much spectacularly filmed mayhem.

    From the supercharged balletic fight scenes -- courtesy of legendary Hong Kong, kung fu specialist Yuen Wo Ping -- to the highly choreographed gun battles (that often occur, of course, in slow motion to better enhance the effect) the film has some incredible visual moments that stand up against the best in the history of film.

    Although what's become known as the "Gap effect" (for the Gap khakis commercial where the swing dancers freeze in midair as the camera pans around them) is still somewhat fun to watch -- and is used here during many fight sequences, all of which seems somewhat appropriate since we're dealing with an illusion-based world -- it's quickly becoming overused in movies and is a prime example of clever special effects used for nothing more than being cool.

    Likewise, while moments where the characters occasionally race horizontally along the walls to elude their enemies are actually quite impressive to watch, those where the characters literally fly or flip through the air as they fight one another come across quite poorly. No matter the latest technical innovations used to achieve that effect, it still looks fake. As such, it and some of the campier martial arts gestures and movements employed by the fighting parties constantly reminded me of the funny sequence in "Wayne's World II" where Mike Myers did a hilarious send-up of such action.

    Nonetheless, the audience didn't seem to mind such campy moments that actually seemed to enhance what were otherwise some incredibly intense and realistic hand-to-hand combat sequences that would make the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan proud. Sure, most of the fairer gender will think it's all pretty stupid, but if you're a guy, you'll probably enjoy the heck out of such scenes.

    Of course, while I'll admit to getting a kick out of such material, I'm really a sucker for any sort of sci-fi based, alternate reality plots (such as the tremendous first half of "Total Recall"). While this film has that, some may complain that it has simply lifted material from other notable sci-fi films.

    For example, there are similarities to "Dreamscape" (where an alternative, subconscious reality exists and if you die there, you die in reality) and the "Terminator" films (with the similar back story of a war raged between man and what had become self-sustaining, artificially intelligent computers).

    Then there are the elements similar to "Total Recall" (where memories or in this case, "book smarts" are planted directly into one's brain), and even the "Star Trek: Next Generation" series and films (with its illusion-based holodeck sequences). Even so, the film still manages to give most of that a fresh spin -- including fun reasoning regarding deja vu experiences and why exotic foods always taste like chicken -- and thus keep things interesting.

    Now, that doesn't mean it always makes sense, however. As such, some logic problems exist, particularly concerning what one can and can't do in this artificial world. Although Neo learns how to bend a spoon with his mind (since the spoon's not really there) and some characters can jump incredibly long distances (and thus partially defy gravity), it's never really explained why they can't bend the barrels of the guns used by those trying to kill them and/or simply defy gravity altogether and float to the top of building instead of taking the elevator.

    While I understand that there needs to be a gradual acquisition of such skills for the protagonist, and the lack of most of them until late in the film creates necessary conflict and drama, a better sense of rules regarding all of that -- as well as the way for the team members to exit the Matrix -- needs to be present.

    As it stands, the audience will probably get confused and perhaps even frustrated by the lack of understanding of what's possible, what's not, and why. The film also misses the golden opportunity to really let loose with the team's firepower in the concluding scenes. After all, if they can be equipped with their choice of "imaginary" weapons, why not really let things rip in what would have been an even greater audience pleasing moment?

    In addition, the film could have used villains with a bit more depth. While it's logical that Agent Smith and his cohorts would be menacing in a two-dimensional way since they're computer-based entities -- much like Schwarzenegger's portrayal in the first "Terminator" film -- it would have behooved the film had those characters been a bit more "personable" and thus that much more fun to root against. Although strains of this do occur late in the film, more of that definitely would have been better.

    Of course a film like this isn't particularly interested in award-winning performances, although those that are delivered are more than adequate for the job. While some have questioned Keanu Reeves' acting ability in the more "serious" films in which he's appeared, his handsome good looks, streamline physique and tough guy persona work well in action films such as "Speed," "Point Break" and most certainly here. Whoever would have thought that the guy who once played Ted (of "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure") would one day be one of the more impressive action heroes?

    Supporting performances are adequate, but the characters from which they are based are considerably less developed than Reeve's. Laurence Fishburne ("Event Horizon," "What's Love Got To Do With It?"), while similarly impressive in the film's physical work, could have used a bit more levity in his completely solemn character to make him both more accessible and likeable to the audience.

    Unfortunately, Carrie-Anne Moss ("Sabotage," the TV series "Dark Justice") and the always competent Joe Pantoliano ("The Fugitive," "Bound") are even less developed than their co-stars and don't do much more than take up space (although Moss does have a fun opening action sequence). Likewise, as mentioned before, Hugo Weaving ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert") is appropriately menacing, but unfortunately a bit too two-dimensional as the villain.

    Nonetheless and despite those and other objections, the film is a fun combination of cerebral sci-fi elements and stunningly impressive action sequences. While some might not think much of the slow motion gun battles (having seen them in many other films), it's doubtful few will find a thrilling helicopter sequence and other similar moments as anything less than exhilarating. Not a perfect sci-fi action film, it's still a blast to watch and for that, we give "The Matrix" a 6.5 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated, sci-fi film. Violence is extreme with many brutal martial arts fighting scenes and intense gun battle sequences, many of which have lethal and occasionally bloody results. Other gore is related to the sight of objects puncturing the skin of certain characters and/or the resulting holes once those objects are removed.

    While there's not much in the way of traditional scary film frights, all of those violent and other action-oriented scenes may be quite intense to many viewers, and the cool-looking martial arts fighting may prove to be imitative to some kids. The film's profanity consists of nearly 20 "s" words as well as other words and phrases.

    Beyond that, the other categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Nonetheless, and considering what is present, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for you or anyone else in your home.

  • When the question is asked if one's ever had that feeling where you never know if you're awake or still dreaming, a man says, "Yeah, it's called mescaline."
  • Some people drink in a club.
  • We see that one of the fighting skills implanted into Neo's head is "drunken boxing."
  • Cypher and Neo drink some sort of "home-brewed" alcohol.
  • Cypher has a glass of wine with dinner.
  • A wino in a subway station drinks from a brown paper bag.
  • We see skin suddenly growing over Neo's mouth until it completely disappears. An agent then pulls out a small device that then turns into a large insect-like creature that crawls across Neo's now exposed chest and then burrows its way through his belly button (which we see) to get inside him.
  • Later, that creature is extracted (after we see it moving around under his skin) and sucked into a small tube where we see that it's quite bloody.
  • We then see Neo in one of the Matrix compartments where all sorts of wiring is attached to his body (penetrating his skin).
  • Later, we see all sorts of acupuncture-like needles stuck into Neo's body, and then also see the "holes" where that earlier wiring went into him (which is slightly gross-looking). We then see him pull one last tube/wiring out of his arm (and through the skin, but no blood).
  • We then see Morpheus and his team insert a wiring connection into the one "port" left in the back of Neo's head (we don't actually see the insertion due to the camera angle, but you can definitely see what they're doing).
  • We see Neo vomit.
  • After sparring with Morpheus, Neo sticks his fingers into his mouth and then pulls them out to see them slightly covered with blood.
  • After a man is killed in the matrix, blood comes out of the mouth of his real-life counterpart.
  • Morpheus is a little bloody after a fight.
  • We see a man's charred arm after he's been shot with some sort of electrical energy gun.
  • We see bullet holes in people's clothes as they're shot, but nothing that's particularly bloody.
  • Neo has blood run from his mouth in both his real-life and matrix personas during a fight.
  • After a character has completely entered another character's body, we see ripples going through the first man's skin.
  • Agent Smith and his team represent the artificial life form that enslaves humans as its batteries and as such, wish to kill Morpheus and his team for trying to reveal that to others.
  • By night Neo is a computer hacker who sells illegally obtained software/codes to others.
  • One of the crew members, who's tired of life running from the agents, turns and sides with them against Morpheus and the others.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" -- and in particular the intense action sequences -- may also be tense to some viewers.
  • Agents walk down a darkened hallway with their guns and flashlights drawn and encounter Trinity who fights with and then flees from them.
  • Led by phone directions from Morpheus, Neo tries to elude agents who are after him and then finds himself out on a ledge of a building hundreds of feet above the street. He tries to make his way over to a window-washing gondola, but his fear of heights prevents him from making it (as he nearly falls off).
  • We see skin suddenly growing over Neo's mouth until it completely disappears. An agent then pulls out a small device that then turns into a large insect-like creature that crawls across Neo's now exposed chest and then burrows its way through his belly button (which we see) to get inside him.
  • The thought and sight of Neo hooked up to a machine (along with thousands/millions of others) may be unsettling to some viewers, especially the sight of wiring going into his body (through the skin) at various places. A menacing-looking flying machine then approaches and grabs him (but only to unhook him).
  • After watching Morpheus leap across a huge expanse between building tops, Neo tries to do the same but comes up short and falls to the pavement below (but is okay, since it's all imaginary).
  • As Morpheus and his crew hide their ship, they watch several large, mechanical sentry "creatures" (that look like squid) that are searching for them.
  • Morpheus and his team find themselves in a gun battle with Agent Smith and his team and then try to hide from them.
  • Morpheus tries to run and jump into a hovering helicopter, but gets shot and won't make it. Thus Neo, who's tethered to the copter, jumps out and grabs him and the two dangle from the damaged copter. As it crashes moments later, Trinity just makes it out and grabs a hold of a line that Neo's holding which nearly drags him off a building top.
  • Neo and Agent Smith fight in front of an approaching subway train.
  • As Neo tries to elude more agents and get out of the Matrix, some mechanical creatures attack Morpheus' ship and begin cutting their way through its hull.
  • Handguns/Shotguns/Machine guns/Electrical energy gun: Used to threaten, wound or kill various people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Holy sh*t," "Piece of sh*t," "Jack-off" (noun), "Balls" (testicles) and "Go to hell."
  • Some kids may want to imitate all of the impressive-looking martial arts action.
  • Neo gives an agent -- who's trying to intimidate him -- "the finger."
  • None.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful (dramatic and action-oriented) and ominous music plays throughout the film.
  • None.
  • At least 18 "s" words, 7 hells, 4 asses (1 used with "hole"), 3 craps, and 8 uses of "G-damn," 3 of "Jesus," 2 each of "Jesus Christ" and "God" and 1 use each of "Good God," "Oh my God" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • We see that Neo is nude in one of the matrix compartments, but don't see any explicit nudity.
  • After Neo spots an attractive and shapely woman in a red dress and then learns that she was just a computer program, the guy who developed her tells Neo that he could arrange a more intimate meeting between the two (but this never happens).
  • We see a brief image of a woman wearing what appears to be a bikini-like top that shows some cleavage.
  • Cypher smokes a cigar, while a mysterious woman (Oracle) smokes a cigarette as does a miscellaneous character.
  • None.
  • Whether computers will ever get smart enough to behave on their own.
  • Whether one person's reality is the same for another (ie. Does the color red look the same to two different people, or could it be different but both call it the same name, etc...).
  • After some agents have confronted her, Trinity breaks one of the men's arms and then kicks a man and they open fire at her. She then knocks them down and flees with them in pursuit and shooting at her. After several long leaps between building tops, she eventually gets to telephone booth that's then smashed into a wall by a large truck (she escapes unharmed).
  • Trinity's associate holds a gun on Neo.
  • Morpheus and Neo spar as the former tries to teach the latter how to fight. As such, both land many punches and kicks.
  • A man is shot and killed in the matrix and his real-life self also dies.
  • Agents open fire on Morpheus and his team who shoot back.
  • Morpheus and Agent Smith get into a brutal fight with many severe blows landed to each other. Smith finally prevails and other guards come in and beat Morpheus with their batons/clubs.
  • A man shoots another man with some sort of electrical energy gun that injures and perhaps kills him. He then pulls the matrix plug out of the back of another man's head, killing him, and then does the same to another character.
  • A man shoots and kills another man with that above gun.
  • Many people are shot and killed in another big gun battle that also blasts apart many indoor pillars (and Trinity throws a knife that impales a man in the head -- no blood). A man then prepares to shoot Neo (who's been slightly wounded) but Trinity shoots him point blank in the head.
  • Neo uses a helicopter mounted machine gun to kill many agents and Morpheus gets shot in the leg.
  • A helicopter crashes into a building and explodes.
  • Neo gets into an extremely brutal fight with Agent Smith.
  • A man is hit by a subway train.
  • An agent shoots at Neo.
  • Some mechanical creatures attack Morpheus' ship and begin cutting their way through its hull.
  • A man repeatedly shoots another man from close range until he's dead.
  • Another man completely enters another man's body eventually causing him to explode (but without blood or gore).

  • Reviewed March 25, 1999 / Posted March 31, 1999

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