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So-so sequel

Second installment of 'Matrix' series looks sensational but substance is in short supply

The world we believe is ours belongs to the machine. We see what it wants us to see. Our choices are programmed. It sends us dreams, and we live in them. We are nourished by its familiar reassurances, and we are fed upon. We live only as long as it needs us.

But hey, enough about Hollywood. Let's talk about 'The Matrix Reloaded,' the most highly anticipated event in the history of anticipation, the be-all and end-all of movies. Before it even opened, we'd already seen it, loved it and allowed it to break whatever records needed to be broken.

Maybe we need to take a red pill. Or is it a blue pill? Make it a chill pill. Let's make believe the decision hasn't already been made for us, and that maybe, heaven forbid, 'The Matrix Reloaded' is only a movie. Looked at that way, it's hard to imagine most people coming out of this Ñ c'mon, you can say it Ñ movie (see, feels kind of liberating, doesn't it?) as thrilled as when they went in. Unless they stay to the end of the closing credits for the 'Matrix Revolutions' trailer, the next anticipation program.

You know the old program. The 'real' world is an illusion created by a race of sentient machines who breed humans as an energy source. Freedom fighters led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) move in and out of the illusory world, the Matrix, to do battle, now aided by Neo (Keanu Reeves), a former hacker who may be humankind's deliverance.

As 'Reloaded' opens, the machines are launching an attack on humanity's last bastion, the underground city of Zion. Then lots of stuff happens. The real stuff of 'The Matrix.' Not the complex philosophical constructs. Not the rich interplay of character. Not the dense plotting. Not the undeniably clever mingling of influences from classic Greek to comic book.

You know: It's the fights, stupid. Like the doozy in which Neo takes on 100 duplicates of his old nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), now a rogue program who is able to multiply himself. At first it's simply amazing; it really looks like Reeves fighting a bunch of Weavings. Then as it progresses it completes a transformation that becomes a metaphor for the film itself. This is the first anime feature with real people. Or perhaps it's a vast graphic novel, which is how its creators, Larry and Andy Wachowski, originally envisioned it. And that's fine.

But the fact that the Wachowskis topped off their shopping cart at Myths 'R' Us doesn't make the movie profound. Between the fights, the mumbo-jumbo meter heads for the red zone with crypto-mystic pronouncements that sound like a 'Who's on First?' routine as read by Charlton Heston.

You can make as much or as little of it as you want. But if you get too serious about it, then it's no fair making fun of Trekkies anymore. Otherwise, enjoy those fights, the dazzling production, the welcome slyness of Weaving and the easy grace of the late Gloria Foster as the Oracle. And consider this a minority-report program, randomly implanted to maintain the illusion's credibility.