Everything that Neo's senses tell him about reality turns out to be dead wrong. Our universe, in fact, is an artificial parallel to the real world, situated on the other side of a veil that can be pulled back at any moment.
This is the muddled notion -- what I could make of it, at least -- behind "The Matrix." Everything our senses might have told us about this movie, based on repeat viewings of the pointless trailer, turns out to be dead right.
Keanu Reeves (uh-oh, they gave him a movie again) sleepwalks his way through a nominally futuristic adventure distinguished only by all the sizzling special-effects that money can buy. The acting is as wooden as it comes, with poor, lost Keanu able to express little more than befuddlement and fear.
Neo, a highly paid software engineer, spends his off hours trafficking in apparently illegal information. One day he starts getting strange warnings: A message on his monitor says, "The Matrix has you. Follow the white rabbit," and then at a dance club a seductive woman (Carrie-Anne Moss) predicts imminent danger.
The next day, Neo opens a Fed Ex package, discovers a ringing cell phone and hears a voice: "They're coming for you." Just down the hall, true to the caller's warning, is a group of dark-suited guys with earphones and dark glasses.
Neo nearly escapes before being hauled off to a backroom for questioning by these official-looking folks. Then again, employees of the FBI or CIA generally don't have the power to make a man's mouth sew itself up after asking, "What good is a phone call if you're unable to speak?"
One nasty torture device later, Neo wakes up. Or is this a dream? That's only the first of many silly questions, mostly voiced by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, who should have known better), a kind of Zen-master guide to the other side who's never at a loss when it comes to nuggets of wacky wisdom.
Morpheus, rapidly unloading references to "Alice in Wonderland" and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," offers his new student the choice of a blue pill, to maintain the status quo, or a red pill, to see how far down the rabbit hole goes.
Larry and Andy Wachowski, the sibling writing/directing team responsible for 1996's "Bound," a far more accomplished kinky thriller, ought to get credit for the striking visual effects, created with the help of production designer Owen Paterson. Neo's rebirth as a kind of pod person is a sight to behold. Too bad the Wachowskis couldn't plug all that hardware into a story able to sustain anyone's interest past the first 30 minutes. Is it too late to take the other pill?