Jan 17, 2001 at 12:00 am

“The software business is binary: You’re a one or a zero, alive or dead,” the CEO of software giant Never Underestimate Radical Vision (NURV), Gary Winston (Tim Robbins, Mission to Mars), instructs the masses through the media at any opportunity. It’s more than a motto. It’s his defense in the government’s antitrust case, it’s his last-quarter, locker-room pep talk to his motley-hued team of magna cum laude cybergeeks — including his protégé, Milo Hoffmann (Ryan Phillippe, The Way of the Gun). It could be his mantra.

Fade up. Opening credits roll in electric blue text like computer code, a language used most fluently by programming wunderkinds such as Milo and his best bud Teddy Chin, both computer science honors grads and co-founders of an Internet startup, Skullbocks.

Winston aggressively recruits the digital duo. One of his antitrust defense statements is that any garage startup can become the new king of the software hill with the right program. Skullbocks looks like a contender. Why try to beat ’em when you can hire ’em? NURV also needs the young geniuses to write innovative code for its new multimedia package, Synapse, software that could make the corporation number one — or break it if it ends up as a “vaporware” zero, not making its impending release date.

Teddy doesn’t have to think twice. He’s a true believer in open-source architecture: knowledge, code and power to the people, not corporate fascists like Winston — so no way. But Milo signs on at NURV to make his mark on the world. Soon things go Hitchcock: deception, espionage, paranoia — and murder. The tale of this Hoffmann plays out more like Faust: Has Milo sold his soul to Winston’s corporate devil?

Antitrust is a thriller that actually thrills, aimed at the MTV demographic. Though it opens slowly with also-ran visuals, director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) sucker punches us with a stunning subjective montage of images as Milo begins to realize the evils of his situation. Antitrust doesn’t so much put Bill Gates on trial as hyperbolize his crimes in the person of Gary Winston, find him guilty and sentence his corporation to capital punishment.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].