I’m going to keep doing this until it no longer amuses me. Cope.

This weekend’s expedition to see The Matrix Revolutions supplied a bumper crop of trailers:

  • Paycheck — Oh how I want to believe. I want to believe that one day there will be an adaptation of Philip Dick’s work to the screen that’s even half as good as Blade Runner was. I want to believe that John Woo will make a film in America that’s even half as compelling as his middling Hong Kong work. I want to believe that someone other than Tarantino can wrest a good performance out of Uma Thurman. And despite myself, I want to believe that Ben Affleck can stop being annoying. I’m likely to be disappointed on every score here, but I’ll pony up the $10 in the name of unfounded optimism.

  • The Last Samurai — Each successive trailer for this film chips away at a little bit more of my soul. Why must evil triumph over good? Why must the innocent suffer? Why must there be a twenty-foot-tall poster of Tom Cruise dressed as a samurai, riding a horse, with an expression of extreme constipation on his face, looming just outside my office building over the path to my favorite lunch joint? Why does this movie exist? Because god hates us, that’s why.

  • Torque — You can almost hear the pitch for this one being made: “It’s The Fast and the Furious…but on motorcycles!” And, well, TF&TF was stupid but kinda cool, and motorcycles are axiomatically cooler than cars, so…maybe. In the right mood, with the right amount of alcohol, this could be big stupid fun. In the wrong mood, I could find myself remembering that Michelle Yeoh did that exact same motorcycle-jump-onto-a-moving-train trick in Supercop, except without a stunt double or digital editing. We’ll see.

  • Along Came Polly — Meh. Ben Stiller goes back to the well of Farrelly-esque romantic comedy, except that this time instead of wooing kooky anorexic Cameron Diaz, he’s pining for kooky-artist-with-bad-breast-job Jennifer Aniston. The trailer is one of those that leaves you feeling like you’ve seen the entire movie already, and really wished you’d waited for video. On the other hand, for all my snarking, both of the leads are enormously talented, and the trailer tested positive for traces of Philip Seymour Hoffman (and IMDB suggests that there’s a supplemental dose of Hank Azaria), so I could be talked out of my meh-ness.

  • The Missing — Let me go on record right now as saying that in 5 years when they decide to make the inevitable Johnny Cash biographic film, Tommy Lee Jones is required to play the part. The man does the Craggy and Weatherbeaten look better than anyone else save Clint Eastwood, but with the advantage of not being Eastwood first and the character second. And Cate Blanchett may be the most beautiful woman working in film today, and a fine actor in her own right. That said, this film appears to be a child-in-peril flick crossbred with the latest in nü-hörrör stylings, and I kinda regret not using the time to go get more raisinets. Except that apparently Regal Cinemas doesn’t carry raisinets, and isn’t that illegal for a movie theatre to do? Why not stop carrying popcorn at that point? I ended up with a bag of these unspeakably nasty things that purported to be chocolate-covered cookie dough bits, which succeeded in reminding me of the time in 4th grade that I ate half a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, without ever once reminding me why cookie dough tasted good.

  • Troy — Well, this was probably inevitable after Gladiator. Starring Brad Pitt’s pecs, Orlando Bloom’s cheekbones and Eric Bana’s bedroom eyes, and, apparently, a lot of boats, Troy promises to be, um… er… Okay, let’s just cut to the chase here: Brad Pitt in a toga. Are you tumescent and/or moist? It’s okay, you’re among friends, you can admit it. You’ll pay up just like everyone else. The real mystery here is the presence of Peter O’Toole, who you’d think would have learned his lesson about classical historical drama after Caligula. Dance for me, little boots!

Oh, the actual feature presentation?

There’s been something of a critical pile-on on The Matrix Revolutions. It’s ugly; the kind of thing where you’re reduced to putting pull-quotes from Gene Shalit in your newspaper ads. The Des Moines Register Says: Action! It’s not entirely undeserved, but I get the impression that a lot of this is a sort of boil-over of annoyance related to cumulative exposure to the flaws of the first two films. Really, Revolutions is, at worst, no worse than Reloaded (well, except in a few respects, and I’ll get to that), and is often quite a bit better, but I can’t really blame anyone who just gave up and said “enough of this shit” ten minutes into this film.

The big problem, frankly, is spotty scripting, especially the dialogue. Things start out well enough: there’s an appropriately reserved, almost funereal air to Neo’s initial conversations with the Oracle, Agent Smith is all gonzo intensity, and Bane is genuinely creepy. But then, as observed, suddenly we’re in the middle of a John Wayne-esque WW2 film, complete with the Gritty Sergeant and the Plucky Corporal, and there’s one scene where a major character dies that goes on so long that you expect her to start belting out Mimi’s death aria from La Boheme, and oh god there’s the Plucky Kid again, and this all wouldn’t be so bad if every line weren’t so comic-book obvious that you see it telegraphed from a great distance…

Argh, okay, I was supposed to be talking about why I liked this movie. Which I did. Partially this is a matter of low expectations from fantasy entertainment: with “The Fifth Element”, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” as recent benchmarks for quality in this genre, it’s hard to not cut at least a little slack to a film that’s trying a little harder than that. And there is, honestly, plenty to like here. If you indulge the dialogue, the plot itself provides (to me, anyway) a satisfying ration of narrative closure to the story. The setpiece action sequences are jawdropping, and mostly demand a little more emotional involvement from the audience than Reloaded‘s seemingly arbitrary scenes. A lot of the supporting cast carries away the film: Harold Perrineau, and Nona Gaye especially. Mary Alice completely sells the part of the “new Oracle.” Monica Belluci wears another dress made out of 10% latex and 90% optimism. And miracle of miracles, the Wachowski Brothers have figured out a way to get Keanu Reeves to emote onscreen without making the audience immediately snigger: cover his eyes. Absent Ted Logan’s dazed-yet-friendly Holstein stare, Keanu showing emotion is almost convincing.

In short: you could do worse things with your hard-earned $10.

[spoilers in the commentary; beware]

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