‘Matrix’ sequel gets with the program

The Matrix Reloaded is one freaky movie. It has all the things you would expect.

It has Keanu Reeves kicking some serious butt as The One and doing "his Superman thing," in the words of another character. It has Laurence Fishburne looking very, very important. It has Carrie-Anne Moss looking forlorn and lovesick. It even has some new characters.

What it doesn’t have is a lot of cohesion. But it is a seriously mind-bending movie. And, like the first one, it is way cool.

The story starts where the other one left off. (Duh, it is a sequel.) Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are still trying to save the world. Only this time, we see what they are trying to save. It is Zion, inhabited by the only humans on earth. Evil machines have directed killer tunneling devices toward Zion, located in the earth’s core. There are 250,000 of these "squiddies" — one for every human. Morpheus and the crew have the fate of Zion in their hands as they enter virtual reality to battle the machines. It is up to Neo, as in The Matrix, to save the day.

Like the first movie, The Matrix Reloaded operates on the notion that nothing in our world is real, that what we think is reality is actually a computer program devised to control the human mind. And, as in the first one, it’s a real hoot to watch. The movie bombards you with mind-boggling special effects and an equally mind-boggling sci-fi concept. This time, the surreal effects are augmented by old-fashioned ones. One in particular involves a freeway chase scene and it’s a doozy.

So how’s the movie? If you can keep yourself from taking it too seriously, not bad. Of course the actors are so serious that when someone does crack a joke, it’s funnier than it should be.

The acting is also very good. Especially enjoyable is Jada Pinkett, whose feisty beauty is an effective counter to Moss’ stone-faced warrior. Anthony Zerbe makes a notable appearance as one of the elders on the council.

The Matrix Reloaded proves the old axiom that nothing is new under the sun. Unlike The Matrix, which at times was self-consciously edgy, it’s not afraid to use Hollywood conventions to make its point. One scene I liked was straight out of every ancient epic when the leader rouses the troops. That’s OK if it works, and it does work here. As does most everything else.

The verdict? If you’re a Matrix fan, you will not be disappointed. The Matrix Reloaded is everything you could have hoped for. If you weren’t a fan of The Matrix, then why are you reading this?

The Matrix Reloaded
Opening today at area theaters
Three reels out of four

Antwone Fisher
Available Tuesday

It did not surprise me one bit that Denzel Washington could make the transition from megastar to director so seamlessly. What did surprise me was how deeply affected I was by Antwone Fisher. The first half concentrates on sailor Antwone Fisher’s (Derek Luke) struggle to understand why he has so much anger with the help of a stern but understanding Navy psychiatrist (Washington). But when Fisher goes looking for his family, forget it. You better have a month’s supply of Kleenex. What’s so gratifying about Antwone Fisher is that, although Washington is unafraid to go for the heartstrings, he does so honestly, without an ounce of manipulation. It is truly an auspicious debut for both director and star.