Andy and Larry Wachowski should double-check their ammo. The brothers behind 1999's visionary "The Matrix" are shooting blanks with "The Matrix Reloaded," the first of two sequels due this year.
One of Hollywood's most anticipated movies, "The Matrix Reloaded" is possibly the worst sequel to a really good film ever made ("Jaws: The Revenge" excluded).
Huffing and puffing with ponderously self-important notions of reality, destiny and cause and effect, the movie barrages viewers with "Matrix"-type action and style, which has been copied so often that it's become monotonous. The images are intense and turgid, but so cartoonish and over-the-top, they're almost a caricature of the original.
The sequel is virtually devoid of the first film's sly sense of film-noir intrigue and apocalyptic mythos. The sharp dialogue and gradually unfolding revelations are replaced by a juvenile muddle of cryptograms and babbling philosophy that sound significant but really are just vacuous jabber between action sequences.
There's no sense of the layered unmasking of "The Matrix," where the answer to one question raised three more intriguing ones. The questions the sequel poses about free will and the relationship between humanity and machines are so banal, there's little hope of satisfying answers when the trilogy concludes this November with "The Matrix Revolutions."
The Wachowskis' approach this time has a linear, video-game quality. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss progress through a string of fights, chases and other obstacles as they learn more about this virtual-reality matrix thingy where Earth's machine rulers have consigned most of humanity.
When we last saw Reeves' Neo, he was flying high with the discovery of his superpowers as "The One," a prophesied messiah who can free the human race from its machine yoke.
Now the machines have dispatched an army of "sentinels," mechanical creepy-crawlies intended to destroy Zion, the last human city. While most of Zion's hovercraft vessels stick around to defend the city, Neo, girlfriend Trinity (Moss) and mentor Morpheus (Fishburne) head toward Earth's surface to re-enter the matrix.
Neo hopes to fulfill his destiny and kick the tar out of the mean machines. Instead, his "oneness" is cast into doubt as he learns possible new truths about his purpose and origin.
Along the way, Neo and friends encounter old and new acquaintances, most with silly names, some with silly hairdos.
Hugo Weaving returns as agent Smith, whose unctuous speech has lost much of its lively menace now that he's become a rogue computer program hunting Neo for no good reason. The agent has gained the ability to replicate himself, leading to Neo's ridiculous battle with an endless stream of Smiths that's more Keystone Kops burlesque than action sequence.
Gloria Foster is back as the Oracle, who prattles on some more about the itinerary Neo should follow, but only after Neo passes muster by trading punches with the Seraph, her bodyguard.
That leads the gang to the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a hedonistic computer program, his gorgeous wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci), and their two goofily dreadlocked henchmen (Neil and Adrian Rayment).
Then it's on to the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), who appropriately holds the key to a matrix sanctuary Neo must crash, but not before an interminable freeway chase involving a bunch of agents and the dreadlock geeks.
Starting to feel the carpal tunnel in your joystick wrist?
Tossed in to little effect are Harold Perrineau as a member of Morpheus' crew; Jada Pinkett Smith as ship's captain Niobe and Morpheus' ex-lover; and Harry Lennix as ship's captain Lock and Niobe's current lover. If the sentinels get through, humanity is doomed, but alpha wolves Morpheus and Lock find time to glare and growl in good love-triangle fashion.
The Wachowskis were given $300 million to squander shooting both sequels simultaneously. This movie was not worth the wait, and it certainly was not worth the money.
"The Matrix Reloaded," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R for sci-fi violence and some sexuality. Running time: 138 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G - General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.