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COOL WORLD; For pure film thrills, stupefying effects and maximum action, grab your imagination and enter 'The Matrix.'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Matrix" is a movie experience like no other, and experience is what it's all about. It explodes with dazzling visuals and a transcendent sense of excitement.

Whether you think the plot is original (it isn't) or even logical (don't think about it too hard) doesn't matter. It's an electrifying ride through a visionary world made real by astounding special effects and adrenalin-pumping action.

In short, "The Matrix" is the very definition of cool.

Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, Larry and Andy, who brought us that tricky, sexy little thriller "Bound," it tells a tale native to the cyberpunk genre, where machines and the mind intermingle.

Keanu Reeves, whose Zen-like demeanor plays well here, is a software developer by day and a hacker named Neo by night. Enveloped in his computer world, he senses there's a hidden dimension to the life he knows and longs to break through. He seeks as his guide a legend of the hacker underground named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).

But meeting Morpheus turns out to be trickier than Neo could imagine, as ruthless agents are also on the trail of the mystery man. Morpheus' followers, including a woman in black named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), have extraordinary abilities, leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper and fighting by hanging in midair for seconds at a time and then kicking and leaping at the speed of light.

Neo discovers that their powers seem to stem from something called the Matrix -- the very thing the group is fighting against. Rather than reveal all the surprises, let's just say that reality ain't what it used to be. There's a thick dose of talky exposition you'll have to swallow, but it's worth it. A sinister force is at work, and the fate of humanity may rest in Neo's hands.

The great thing about cyberpunk is that a geek can be the savior of the world. More than that, in this flick, Morpheus' followers are oh-so-cool, as they dress in black suits and leather and, like the agents who are their nemesis, wear sunglasses at night. If this kind of detail annoys you, you probably won't like the blistering techno/rock soundtrack either, but all these elements combine with the effects to build a thrill machine.

Effects alone don't make a movie, but they are so flabbergasting here that the eyes are never bored. People dodge bullets, spontaneously morph into agents and practically dance on the ceiling during fight scenes. And there's poetry behind the machinery; Morpheus has the conviction of a prophet, while charismatic Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) sports a twisted sense of irony behind his impassive resolve.

"The Matrix" is a cautionary tale about the rise of artificial intelligence that echoes "The Terminator" and an exploration of the dream world vs. the real that brings to mind the fantastical nightmare of "Dark City."

But despite its heavy resonances -- or downright thefts -- it really is an original. It goes where digital effects have never gone before, and for fans of action, science fiction or the art of the imagination, it's not to be missed.

'The Matrix'

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R (violence, language)

Running time: 120 minutes

Sun score: ***1/2

Pub Date: 03/31/99

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