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This sequel demands a lot of good will - R.H. Joseph

Filthy lucre! It appears the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry, didn't have anything else to say but they knew they were sitting on a gold mine.

"The Matrix," their first film in what has become a franchise, was a sci-fi benchmark, justifiably generating serious buzz and serious bucks. More than a non-stop action/adventure flick enhanced by dazzling special effects, "The Matrix" touched upon intuitively resonant philosophies whose origins may be found in Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism (Daoism).

It is not often that genre flicks dabble in epistemology, issues of whether that which we perceive may be relied upon as truth. An issue antecedent to intellectual inquiry, such fundamental human questions are definitively egalitarian; the box office receipts prove it.

The brothers attempt to reprise this dalliance with philosophical profundities in "Reloaded" but, speaking as one well versed in such arcana, their efforts appear just so much jibber jabber (to quote the ever-eloquent Mr. T).

Perhaps when written down for extended perusal these discussions of causality may be logical and compelling, but spoken on the fly with all that we hold dear teetering on the brink of extinction, I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

This is but one weakness. There are many in the Wachowski's attempt to remake their cash cow.

Contrasting these primal but nebulous philosophical uncertainties that plague the human psyche, Joe Pantoliano's character in "The Matrix," Cypher, provided an edge that cut through the fuzziness like shearing scissors through sheep wool.

Pantoliano is not in "Reloaded" and his absence leaves the film a bit too velvety.

Conversely, failing to demonstrate the restraint that underlies any concept of taste, the Wachowski's must have figured if everyone loved Hugo Weaving's character, Agent Smith, in the first one, they would provide a hundred Agent Smiths in the sequel.

The "more is better" approach may be quintessentially American but its correlation with quality is nonexistent.

Rather than fleshing out this binary bad guy and thereby providing Weaving an opportunity to make him all the more loathsome, the brothers simply provide infinite skin-deep images of same. This is unfair to the actor, the character, and the character's innumerable fans.

Worse still, instead of recapitulating the memorable mano a mano battles between Agent Smith and Neo (Keanu Reeves), the writer/directors turn this profoundly personal battle into a numerical absurdity. Consequently all sense of intimacy is lost and we simply observe these melees from afar, impersonally.

In taking this ill-advised leap into the preposterous the Wachowskis have denied these characters their magic. Having committed themselves to such extravagances they then turn Neo into a comic book super hero. He actually flies faster than a speeding bullet and leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

It might be noted that computer effects enable him to do so, but they are hardly special. In truth, a little objectivity makes clear much of the fast-paced mayhem is familiar (if not trite) action/adventure fodder. We've seen it all before.

That is not to say each new action/adventure flick demands stunts of increasing complexity and derring do – the propensity toward which may hereinafter be referred to as The Curse of John Woo. Rather, in keeping with what made the Wachowski's initial effort so provocative, less razzle dazzle and increased exposure to Mystery would have benefited Episode II.

Oracle (Gloria Foster), so simultaneously accessible and enigmatic in the first flick, was magical precisely because of the juxtaposition of her abstruseness and her cookies. The best the brothers could do in "Reloaded" was to have her offer candy instead. As I said, not a single new idea.

How about this for familiar: Neo must find a special key capable of unlocking a particular door in an endless array of doors to find the secret of existence. Snore!

As to the unfamiliar and therefore refreshing qualities of the film, the Wachowskis find a number of moments to interject completely unanticipated forms of humor.

Additionally, though they call upon a familiar actor, Anthony Zerbe, to portray just the sort of character he's made a living on, the brothers apparently asked for something different and got it. That's a treat.

Another treat is the cultural and gender diversity of the myriad characters and the number of black actors that look real instead of perfect. It may be that the world of tomorrow won't be run by old white guys.

If it appears I've come down hard on the Wachowskis, it is only because "The Matrix" is a timeless piece, assured a permanent place in the pantheon of great sci-fi flicks.

The best that can be said of "The Matrix Reloaded" is that it is a real good ordinary flick.

Celluloid memories: If you like flicks featuring an extraordinary guy who pops in to save the day, find the DVD of "Streets of Fire" (1984). The video tape is a pan-and-scan catastrophe that cuts off the edges of this opulent film. Referred to by its writer and director, Walter Hill, as a rock 'n' roll fable, its got bikers (Willem Dafoe plays Raven, the meanest, nastiest leader of a motorcycle gang you've ever seen), a bad boy with a heart of gold (Michael Par?), the hottest chick singer you've ever seen (Diane Lane), plus Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Bill Paxton, Robert Townsend, and Mykelti Williamson. Plug the TV into your sound system and turn it up – way up! Ry Cooder is responsible for the wonderful sound track and listen for original songs by Jim Steinman, Stevie Nicks, and Tom Petty plus that all-time Jerry Leiber classic, "One Bad Stud." Rock out!