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Traffic Jammer: Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) defy the morning commute traffic in 'The Matrix Reloaded.'

Flying Down to Neo

'Matrix Reloaded' repeats the obvious

By Richard von Busack

EARLY ON, every child gets slapped into him that lesson about being respectful of other people's stupid religions. Such a lesson is the reason for the press The Matrix Reloaded has received in advance, though the cult has occasioned gentle treatment in the press not for its honorable moral qualities but because The Matrix made such barrels of money.

On the level of CGI--a level some fans refuse to address--The Matrix is frequently impressive. But some have found spiritual depths in the film's crypto-Buddhist, crypto-Christian stance, framed by such koans as "It's our way ... or the highway!" or that immortal bad-movie line uttered by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne): "Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony." The Wachowski brothers deserve credit for really African Americanizing their movie of revolution. The black people are the vanguard; as always, they've seen through the lies long before anyone else. Yet nothing in the first picture survives its flatness, and the sequel is more of the same. Once again, it's Hugo Weaving's pregnant pauses as Agent Smith that gave the film a human presence, and he's supposed to be a computer program.

In The Matrix Reloaded, Weaving once again comes to the rescue, but even he can't counter this sequel's insistence on blabbermouthed philosophizing. The plot is indeed reloaded. Perplexed by omens of the death of his love, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), the messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves) waits for his new assignment at the cavernous Zion, humanity's refuge from the AI's hatred. Zion, it turns out, is Burning Man. The humans indulge in drum circles and hold torch light orgies, though the power is in the hands of a quavery and irresolute council. And an uncredited Anthony Zerbe is obviously the Count Palatine who's going to sell out humanity in the upcoming Matrix sequel this fall.

The three main CGI-augmented action pieces were obviously hard work, especially the finale: a car chase shot at the old Alameda Navy Base, where a mile-long Autopia version of Highway 101 was built, complete with sound walls and Redwood City exit signs. In an early fight scene, the ever-dull Reeves tosses a hoard of Agent Smiths in the air, as if he were Popeye on spinach, before flying away like Superman. From a visual standpoint, the most arresting fight is a leaping tussle in the mansion of Lambert Wilson's Merovingian. He's a faux-French (hisssss) villain who has unaccountably named himself after a dynasty of sixth-century Frankish rulers, and who has packed his mansion with the kind of tatty neoclassic statuary they sell at fancy tourist art galleries in Union Square. The synthetic feet kicking synthetic asses are sort of entertaining. Still, a mighty wind blows through this picture: gusts of self-importance, draughts of Ed Woodian reiteration of the obvious.

The Matrix Reloaded (R; 138 min.), directed and written by the Wachowski brothers, photographed by Bill Pope and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss, opens Thursday at theaters valleywide.

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From the May 15-21, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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