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'Tron' visuals excite, but story sputters

Here's my list for "Tron: Legacy." I've checked it twice.

The movie is: 1) a visionary triumph; 2) a dramatic catastrophe; 3) two hours of narrative nonsense and, nevertheless, 4) a valuable bit of moral instruction wrapped in a few hundred yards of sci-fi silliness.

This is the long-belated sequel to Steven Lisberger's extraordinary groundbreaking movie from 1982. That one starred a young Jeff Bridges. This one, 28 years later, stars an old Jeff Bridges, along with a young computer-generated Bridges who has the old guy's voice.

Add Joel and Ethan Coen's "True Grit" in which a real Jeff Bridges also stars, and which opens Wednesday, and we are currently in the midst of a Jeff-a-palooza.

That's what happens, I guess, when a Hollywood plurality slips an Oscar into the trunk of your car.

I had a grand time looking at this "Tron" thing but, in the mumbo-jumbo fantasy sweepstakes, it sometimes makes "Inception" look like "Dick and Jane" and the last few "Matrix" monstrosities seem as simplistic and "high concept" as "Unstoppable" by comparison.

Not that the opening isn't promising. Lisberger's original film pioneered the way human beings could be mixed with computer graphics. This baby seemed prophetic enough to postulate our hero Bridges, as a computer visionary who hankers after a digital frontier where all information is open and free, thereby reshaping the human condition.

Shades of WikiLeaks.

Even better than that, though. Before he's finished, he wants an informational world where human beings and computers interact in a festival of "biodigital jazz." Can you dig it?

Ah well. So much for accidental clairvoyance. Big Jeff B. winds up lost inside his own computer grid, where he's followed by his son Sam, a strapping, insolent, young dumbbell played by Garrett Hedlund. It seems he got a message on his Dad's ancient pager, yes pager, to go to Dad's old video arcade.

Soon, he meets up with the new, computer-generated Digi-Dad (named Clu), who's an out-of-control program invented by Dad to ensure perfection in this new computer universe. Unfortunately, in his drive for perfection, Clu goes absolutely nuts.

I know it's hard, but if you're still somehow paying attention, therein lies the admirable moral instruction of the movie. It seems to be telling us that perfection is not just the enemy of the good but the enemy of humanity itself, which is kind of a nice takeaway from a movie that is otherwise dense and impenetrable cyber-twaddle.

While Sam is marooned on the grid he is pressed, just as Dad was, into some gladiatorial games he hadn't planned on. He also hooks up with a fetching isomorphic algorithm named Kora. She's played by Olivia Wilde.

If at this point, you're a little dizzy from all the cyber-jargon and sci-fi silliness, you ought to try actually sitting through the movie, which is no doubt a fanboy nerd-o-topia but an intermittently unendurable trial for the rest of us in the gloriously imperfect human race.

And now the good news: $200 million -- or something in that mind-blowing neighborhood -- can buy you a lot of visual glory and the "ribbon of light" design of "Tron" was always the mind-bending triumph of the thing. In its wildly inventive way, it was brilliantly minimalist -- a whole universe of lines of light surrounded by ominous darkness.

This new "Tron" sticks to the original's visual game plan -- sort of noir in neon -- but adds a lot of the vast interstellar perspective that "Forbidden Planet" brought into the sci-fi movie world and George Lucas chose as his own personal cinematic playground.

So if you can somehow blot out all the dialogue and the story -- or at least as much as possible -- and just groove on the visuals, you're in for a decent time.

If not, you're going to be like Bridges, when his newly arrived son starts getting on his nerves.

"Sam," he says, "You're messing up my zen thing, man."

I'm with the Dude on this one.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

***

"Tron: Legacy"    

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen. Directed by Joseph Kosinski.

Rated PG for intense light and sound. 126 minutes.

Opened Friday in area theaters.

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