First things first. Any resemblance between boyish, Pringles-crunching, Pacific Northwest-based, philanthropic billionaire software-company honcho Gary Winston (Tim Robbins) in "Antitrust" and Microsoft head Bill Gates is, uh, "purely coincidental," according to the press notes. In the spirit of paranoia that informs this uneven, contrived Gen Y thriller, it's probably important to clear that up as much as possible. Hey, Bill, director Peter Howitt and screenwriter Howard Franklin ("Someone To Watch Over Me") aren't implicating you or your company. OK?
Howitt, the British-born filmmaker who made his debut with 1998's far more impressive "Sliding Doors," leaves London behind for the West Coast, a corridor of high-tech industry that still feels like a Brave New World: Artsy, creative kids once upon a time formed bands in their garages. Now, as N.U.R.V. corporation head Winston suggests in one his many disingenuous, self-serving declarations, any kid in a garage with smarts, talent and drive could foment a digital revolution and, not incidentally, scare up a load of cash along the way.
Milo (Ryan Phillippe) and his best friend Teddy (Yee Jee Tso), razor-sharp programmers recently graduated from Stanford University, are attempting to do just that, in the form of a start-up company -- Skullbocks -- devoted to the technology of convergence, a method of linking together computers, televisions, telephones and wireless devices. Teddy, a sweet reminder of '60s political sensibilities, is defiantly anticorporate. "They just want to own everything," he complains about N.U.R.V., an acronym for the concern's motto, "never underestimate radical visions." Milo, though, isn't quite so sure, and he soon succumbs to a plum job offer fr0om Winston, ditching his pals and leaving town with artist girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani) as soon as he hears about the big pay and the lavish perks.
N.U.R.V., of course, is working on a project similar to that of Milo's old team, and the endeavor is set for launch in just 42 days. "Synapse will fully unite the global village," Winston spouts, in television advertisements and in front of his programmers, none of whom seem to be older than 30. For Milo, it's a dream job, complete with sharp, young, easygoing colleagues, a brilliant mentor, and a stunningly beautiful corporate campus (actually, the University of British Columbia), set against a forest of fir trees and snow-capped mountains. Extracurricular romantic activity, too, may be part of the benefits package, in the form of a potential liaison with co-worker Lisa (Rachael Leigh Cook), she of the porcelain skin, delicate features and standoffish attitude.
There are downsides, though, including daily harangues/pep talks from Winston, nicely played by Robbins with a mix of self-serving charm and understated menace, the same blend that worked so well for the actor's portrayal of the terrorist next door in "Arlington Road." Winston, at times, comes off as a motivational speaker, a la Tony Robbins; elsewhere, he sounds like a reformed hippie, applying counterculture philosophy to the cutthroat business world. It's an effective performance, and there isn't a more potent moment than when Milo is caught surreptitiously typing away on a computer in Winston's bedroom: "I've got my eye on you," the older man says, as cheery as you please.
"Antitrust," which thrives on a generic altrock soundtrack (Everclear, Supergrass, Marcy Playground) and borrows a thing or two from 1995's "The Net" and 1998's "Enemy of the State," is otherwise predictable and rather formulaic. Milo begins to suspect that N.U.R.V. is up to no good, and conducts a rather suspense-free investigation, enlisting Alice and then Lisa. He discovers that Big Brother, in the former of Winston, is everywhere, and that enemies are masquerading as friends. And Phillippe ("The Way of the Gun," "Cruel Intentions") greets each supposedly shocking revelation with a numb, distance-gazing expression. It's not exactly his finest hour.