‘Tron’ Robots Glow in Pinball Universe; Shady Lobbyist: Movies

Tron: Legacy” takes place in a futuristic world where glowing gladiators fight to the death before roaring stadium crowds, and humanoid robots race sleek motorcycles that zoom through the air like spaceships.

This 3-D sequel to 1982’s “Tron” is a head-spinning special-effects extravaganza masking a trite story about a father-son reunion and the hazards of letting computers run the world.

Comparisons to a video game are understandable since the protagonist, Kevin Flynn, is a brilliant video-game designer whose alternate utopian universe is being sabotaged by a rogue program, Clu, he created in his own image.

Flynn and Clu are both portrayed by Jeff Bridges, who gets a youthful makeover as Clu through digital wizardry. Flynn is the older, wiser, bearded version, while Clu is the evil, clean- shaven, 30-something spinoff who looks like Bridges in the original movie.

Director Joseph Kosinski, a TV commercial whiz making his feature debut, uses all the technological innovations that have revolutionized movies since the first “Tron.” But the flashing lights and frenetic movement make you feel like you’re trapped inside a pinball machine.

Trapped in Cyberspace

The plot -- Flynn’s son, Sam, who hasn’t seen his dad since he disappeared 20 years ago, enters the cyberspace where pop is trapped -- is almost beside the point. Why bother with human interaction when you can dazzle viewers with a digitally altered face that required Bridges to wear a helmet camera during filming?

What seems fresh at first grows tiresome through repetition. Yes, it’s cool seeing an avatar powered by a huge programming disk on its back. After a while, though, you yearn for the computer creature to do something interesting.

Bridges does a Zen-like turn as the elder Flynn, while his Clu is predictably robotic. Garrett Hedlund is forgettable as Sam, Michael Sheen channels David Bowie as the gaudy opportunist Castor and Olivia Wilde plays Quorra, a fierce warrior who is Flynn’s most trusted aide.

Wilde looks sensational in her black neon suit and Louise Brooks hairdo. And in “Tron: Legacy,” looks are just about everything.

‘Tron: Legacy,” from Walt Disney Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: **

‘Casino Jack’

Truth is stranger than fiction -- and often more interesting.

Consider “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It’s opening seven months after “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” a documentary about the same lobbyist whose brazen influence- peddling and corruption landed him in prison and helped lead to the downfall of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

While they cover mostly the same territory, including Abramoff’s rip-off of casino-operating Indian tribes and his shady involvement in a gambling cruise line, Alex Gibney’s documentary provided more context about how a sleazebag like Abramoff was able to gain so much clout in Washington.

The Spacey movie is a black comedy that milks laughs from Abramoff’s slurs against ethnic groups and his imitations of politicians and movie stars. Barry Pepper plays his excitable business partner, Michael Scanlon, and Jon Lovitz goes over the top as a mob-connected associate.

Pizza Guy

Spacey is physically miscast as Abramoff, a former wrestler who brags that he “works out every day.” Spacey’s doughy physique and receding hairline don’t project the menace and power of the real Abramoff, who worked at a Baltimore pizzeria for six months following his release from prison in June.

There’s a sad footnote to the movie: Director George Hickenlooper died Oct. 30 of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 47.

“Casino Jack,” from Art Takes Over, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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