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Loaded With Blanks

'The Matrix: Reloaded' takes cheap shots and pilfers the goods from other films.

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While it's definitely a respectable thing that the Wachowski Brothers have attempted to go all out with The Matrix: Reloaded, alas, technology and their own scriptwriting abilities have let them down.

While not a torturous experience, Reloaded is full of special effects that appear like ideas a little too big for current genre capabilities. It also features some of the worst, hammy dialogue you are bound to hear this year. Considering the solid experience that was the original, the first sequel is a major letdown.

The story picks up after Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his cronies have led a small revolution resulting in many humans being released from those icky energy sucking embryonic thingamaboos in which they were imprisoned in the prior film. The story is simple: Neo and his cronies must overthrow the machines and destroy The Matrix.

It's much fun seeing Reeves' Neo taking to the sky, looking like a cross between Superman and U2's Bono. In fact, Reeves performs nicely once again as the Jesus Christ of the computer world, saying his few lines with that bemused, withdrawn tone that just screams: "Keanu!"

Too bad the Wachowskis couldn't have been a little more subtle with their obvious religious imagery and their blatant rip-offs of countless other big budget extravaganzas. From Star Wars to Fast and the Furious, no current franchise is safe from their pilfering. They even throw a little Twin Peaks into the mix when Neo has a showdown with some boring-assed villain called The Architect in what comes off as a computerized version of David Lynch's infamous Red Room.

The Wachowskis don't rip off with originality and finesse. What was once stylish and original has become routine and flat. The sequel offers very few moments of genuine excitement on par with even the smaller moments of the original. Even worse, there are long stretches where it looks like shit.

One of the big action set pieces involves Matrix baddie Mr. Smith (Hugo Weaving) having a showdown with Neo. Smith manages to copy himself to the point where he's formed a small army of Smiths. As they battle with Neo, it's shocking how glaringly sloppy the computer animation work is, where subjects that are supposed to appear human look polished and cartoonish.

Another problem would be the soundtrack, with pulsing music that feels dated and repetitive. When the surviving humans thrash about in a celebratory dance sequence, it plays like Disco Matrix 2003. While the sights and sounds of the original film had a creepy vibe of isolationism and alienation, the blown-up sequel often plays like a bad, overcrowded rave.

Faring the worst is Laurence Fishburne returning as Morpheus. While his character was amongst the coolest in the original, there was nary a single moment he spent on the screen in Reloaded where I didn't want him to go away. He delivers his lines with a painfully obvious, pomp-and-circumstance cadence that just screams "Acting!" It's intolerable.

The production value ranges from bad to semi-impressive. The surviving humans look and talk like rejects from a bad Star Trek sequel. In fact, the film's religious imagery often reminds of the goofy attempts at profundity in William Shatner's overblown Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

I have no problems with cliffhangers. I withstood the tragic hanger-on of the '80s, where George Lucas traumatized millions with the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, so I can tolerate the waiting now. Still, the ending of this film--an unexciting set-up for Matrix: Revolutions to be released later this year--is abrupt, sloppy and cheap. It's mediocre filmmaking, which is pretty much what can be said for the entire movie.

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