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Matrix needs to Reload with real story

Review: Sequel will appeal only to hard-core fans
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I’d like to start off by saying how much I loved the original “Matrix.” It was smart, cool, funny, exciting, inventive and most of all, it had a story. I know story isn’t a priority anymore in Hollywood, but it’s a nifty little extra nonetheless.

If there is a story behind “The Matrix Reloaded,” it is an afterthought that is buried within the elaborate fight scenes and interminable freeway chase. I know from sitting through it that the machine world is after Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the rest of the surviving humans who are hunkered down in their city, but beyond that the numbingly profound exchanges between characters, religious overtones and philosophical mumbo jumbo that pass for a story pale in comparison to the Wachowski brothers’ initial effort in this series.

The basic problem is this: In the original, Neo was an innocent. He was given a choice whether to embark on a journey, and he chose to do so, swallowing the appropriate pill. During the course of discovering the secrets and perils of the Matrix, he is confronted by Agent Smith and the rest of the black-suited bad guys. In the end, after many trials and tribulations, Neo discovers that he is indeed the Chosen One, defeats the agents and triumphs. It’s a classic storyline superbly updated and dressed up in dazzling computerized accessories.

In “The Matrix Reloaded,” Neo starts off omnipotent and remains so. When the main character is omnipotent from the start, there is nowhere to go with him. There is no fight he can’t win, and therefore, no suspense in the skillfully photographed and choreographed but ultimately empty fight sequences.

Then again, the picture has made over $700 million worldwide, so somebody must like it.

Having said all that, “The Matrix Reloaded” is now out on DVD in a two-disk set, and the good news is that, for people inclined to buy into anything featuring Keanu Reeves in a long black coat and shades, the package has enough extra features to keep the hardcore techno-geeks placated.

Naturally, the big drawback is no commentary from Larry and Andy Wachowski, but that’s to be expected, since they’re reclusive. If I had all those millions and I was worried about being approached by ardent fans claiming to be the “real” Agent Smith, I might be reclusive too. But a commentary track would have been a nice gesture.

Unfortunately, there is no input whatsoever from the brothers, which is unforgivable. I can understand why Steven Spielberg refuses to do commentary tracks. But he recognizes the importance to fans of his observations of his own work, so he makes himself available in featurette interviews on the DVD releases of his works. The Wachowski brothers are barely even glimpsed on-camera among the features in this DVD set.

“The Matrix Reloaded” disks include something called “Preload,” which is just a series of cheerleading interviews with the cast members as they gush over the project; a glimpse into “The Animatrix,” the animated offshoot of the world of “The Matrix”; a look at the video game based on the movie, and a shameless piece on the product placement and advertising.

In all, unless you’re positively freaky about the phenomenon that is “The Matrix” trilogy in the same way that George Lucas fans go ga-ga over the “Star Wars” stuff, then buy this. Otherwise, morph yourself into a state of denial and seclusion.

Check out this special feature: I suppose the best aspect of the whole two-disk presentation is a little number called “The Freeway Chase,” which gives some technical insight into the great lengths the filmmakers went to in order to film the picture’s signature set piece. An actual freeway was built, driving lessons were administered, stunt drivers were recruited and the result is a fairly interesting behind-the-scenes bit that is far more involving than the actual chase scene is within the context of this lame and pretentious story.

Suggested retail price: $29.95 (Warner Brothers).