Stuck In The Middle With Neo

The Matrix Reloaded Fires a few blanks

Ironically, much of what's best about Reloaded can be found in small, human touches—notably, Gloria Foster's sly performance as the Oracle and Randall Duk Kim's wonderfully deft turn as the Keymaker. At their best, the Wachowskis have a gift for clever pop throwaways—there's an amusingly conceived cameo by left-wing professor Cornel West—and for mischief: they use Neo's ability to fly in a scene that almost seems designed to render the upcoming Superman movie wholly redundant. Reload that, Brett Ratner.

Like the original Stars Wars films, the Matrix trilogy offers the fantasy of a small, select group rebelling against overwhelming odds (next up, The Matrix Revolutions). But what are Neo and his comrades rebelling against? Although the official enemy here is the machine world, the artificial reality they've constructed looks suspiciously like the corporate global order as we now know it. Of course, it's hard to believe the Wachowskis mean this when they and Warner Bros. are busy selling off sponsorships to brands like POWERade. The filmmakers are slightly more sincere in their racial politics. The most sinister figures are all white men in suits, while aside from Trinity—a weathered butch woman with a mean leg kick—the heroes are all black, Asian or racially mixed. (Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Coulter, start your engines.) Reloaded doesn't have anything truly meaningful to say about race, but its proud swirl of colors underscores a huge cultural shift. These days the mass international audience—including white American teenagers—think nonwhite style is what's happening. And the true meaning of movies like this one finally lies in how it teaches us new ways to be cool.

This is great news for Keanu Reeves, whose extraordinary handsomeness, at once Asian and Caucasian, masculine and feminine, makes Neo his ideal role. Although his acting inclines toward the wooden, it has always been his weird genius (if that's the term) to exude a charmed aura, an uncanny sense of being the chosen one—remember, he has been the Buddha. I'm not sure any other actor could play Neo nearly so well, for the others would all be working to seem like the One (as he's known), while Reeves conveys that quality just by showing up. And he looks fabulous doing it. As he moves across the screen in those angled sunglasses and the long black robe of a kung fu priest—tightly cut at the top and skirtlike at the bottom for maximum panache when kicking—you can almost believe The Matrix Reloaded is as cool as you thought it was going to be

The Matrix Reloaded was written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowiski; Produced by Joel Silver; And stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving. Now playing countywide.

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