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Exclusive: Mariah Downsizes Tour

Mariah Carey | The Matrix Crowd | The Matrix Sequel

Exclusive: Mariah Downsizes Tour

Mariah Carey is not doing a stadium tour this spring after all. Instead, she's got a surprise planned: a major tour of smaller theatres like New York's Beacon and Boston's Orpheum come this fall.

And it's not like she can't fill Madison Square Garden-sized rooms. Promoters were already laying out a schedule for around the country that consisted only of arenas. But Carey told me she knew it was a mistake.

"My voice is very delicate," said the owner of an seven-octave range. "I wanted this to be about the music, not a Broadway type show. And," she added, "I didn't want to be moving around quickly from city to city. I wanted to stay planted in a city as long as I could."

Carey calls this tour her first "Unplugged" performances. "Somehow, and we're not going to say how yet, the fans will have a chance to request songs. It's hard to choose because I have 14 number ones and you can't leave them out. But a fan told me recently she loved 'Close My Eyes,' which is more obscure. So I want to include some of them as well. I know that my favorite kind of show is like going to see Prince in a small club. I want these shows to be like that, very loose and spontaneous."

Right now Mariah is planted in a very nice spot in the Caribbean (I'm sworn to secrecy but I can tell you it's not St. Bart's). She's taking a short break after recording four new songs for the re-release of her Charmbracelet album.

"It's got four new tracks. I've recorded with Da Brat, a reggae group called Elephant Man, Se7en, and I'll have my single with Busta Rhymes." Carey did the recordings in Miami, where she bumped into Ashanti, Missy Elliott, and Irv Gotti at the studio. "And that's why I record in Capri usually. I don't like getting dressed up and wearing makeup. I like to go in my pajamas, but you can't do that in Miami!"

Matrix Sequel: Wyclef, the Fonz and Philosophy

It's hard to say what was more in effect at the Warner Bros. New York premiere of The Matrix Reloaded Tuesday night.

In 20 years of attending similar events at this venue, I have not seen such heavy security or such a high level of disorganization. You could waltz through JFK Airport with more ease than it took to enter this evening of entertainment: Metal detectors, metal scanners, and many dozens of private guards were the reward once you made it through the maze of gates set up along the sidewalk.

Of course, the funniest part was seeing all the celebrities with their own bodyguards. These gentlemen, whose heads and necks are as wide as doorways, don't receive hard tickets for seats in the theatre.

Once their clients are seated, they are stowed along the top of the orchestra section stairs like baby strollers or walkers. And there they glare through squinty eyes and breathe open-mouthed as their clients courageously greet well-wishers. It's too much.

Janet Jackson had one such fellow in her employ. He insisted on sticking his mutton-chop-sized arm out in the aisle to block anyone from brushing against Janet or looking at her too closely while she was trying to find her seat. I'll bet a few guests discovered themselves bruised by the experience when they got home.

The celebs were there in force, but it was the Time Warner brass that made the most impact in the room. After all, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions — the latter will be released in a few months — together cost more than $300 million.

At a time when the company is in turmoil, it was kind of touching to see CEO Richard Parsons, HBO chief Jeff Bewkes, and even former Warner Bros. co-chair Bob Daley (with wife, famed songwriter Carole Bayer Sager) settling into velvet seats.

Warner is now a corporation of sequels — Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Matrix constitute these high-risk gambles in place of making small, interesting movies. Luckily, the bet is covered.

Reloaded attracted an eclectic crowd: modern R&B genius Wyclef Jean — who just decamped from Sony Music to J Records after years of forced captivity — nearly dropped his dreadlocks when he set eyes on Henry "The Fonz" Winkler.

"I grew up with you!" Wyclef exclaimed. The two embraced.

Winkler, now producing Hollywood Squares and a series of kids' books, was overwhelmed.

"My 19 year old is going to kill me," he said.

Chevy Chase was spotted in the audience, as was Tim Robbins (sans Susan Sarandon) with some of his own kids. Hot-as-a pistol young actor Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) came with three pals and tried like crazy to analyze Reloaded later over a mile-high Dagwood sandwich at the Carnegie Deli.

Also floating about were Reloaded and Oz actor Harold Perrineau Jr., soap star Jensen Buchanan, and one of the Beastie Boys incognito.

Reloaded stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss popped in right before the lights went down, stayed about 20 minutes, then split for a rumored private party at the Hudson Hotel.

Nowhere to be seen all night were the purposely enigmatic co-director/writer/brothers, Andy and Larry Wachowski of Chicago, Illinois. The story is that they refuse to do publicity of any kind.

Aside from The Matrix sequel, their only other motion-picture credit is a hip 1996 movie called Bound, starring Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano. Bound is a thriller with hot lesbian sex and as far removed from The Matrix as it could be.

But I did run into the very important and serious writer/philosopher Cornel West, who has a small role in Reloaded.

Dr. West, now at Princeton University, is renowned for his 30-year-old book called Race Matters, as well as many other books on race, religion and philosophy. So how did he get involved in a sci-fi movie about machines and humans fighting each other in the galaxies?

"They [the Wachowskis] called me up and told me the first Matrix was inspired by my writing. They'd read Race Matters. They're intellectuals," he said. "You can talk Schopenhauer with them for hours."

Dr. West was surprised by all this; he didn't even know about the first Matrix. But that's how stars are born, isn't it? A whole lifetime of important writings and teachings, eclipsed by 30 seconds in a Warner Bros. film. If only Schopenhauer had known.

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Neo

So what is The Matrix Reloaded like? It's like a lot of things: the Superman movies, Star Wars, and the old Flash Gordon films. What's it not like so much? The first Matrix episode.

But that's OK. The novelty of that introductory film is gone, and in its place the Wachowski brothers have made a blockbuster of a movie. It may not have the heart of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but as a "bridge" movie Reloaded gets the job done.

From the beginning, Reloaded makes reference to Superman, and it's intentional. Not only does Keanu Reeves' character Neo now fly like the Man of Steel, but Reeves himself was offered the part of Superman last year by director Brett Ratner. One whole sequence toward the end of Reloaded pitches Reeves as Superman and Carrie-Anne Moss as Lois Lane.

It's an inside-outside joke. I don't know how well it works.

A lot of the mystical quality of the first Matrix is missing in the sequel, replaced by a conventional kind of storytelling. Reeves is Flash Gordon, Moss is Dale Arden, and Laurence Fishburne is their pal and adviser Dr. Zarkoff.

At one point, the drop-dead gorgeous Monica Bellucci turns up as the equivalent of Princess Aura, who wants to woo Flash/Neo away from Dale/Trinity (Moss). But of course the theory here is that the audience is too young to know any of these references, so Reloaded will seem fresh and new.

That's not to say that a lot of the movie is exactly that. It's quite enjoyable and often a rocking good time. The explosions are wonderful, and a long car chase — replete with product-placed new Cadillacs and other General Motors vehicles — is hot stuff.

Reeves is a little stiff and doesn't have much to say, but Fishburne and about three other actors are accorded long declaiming speeches that try to explain what the heck is going on.

There's also a neat turn by Randall Duk Kim as a 20th-century locksmith caught in a futuristic world. Hugo Weaving makes Agent Smith a great bad guy.

The Matrix Reloaded is going to open wide and strong on Thursday.

Warner Bros. is looking for a box-office gross to beat X2 and Spider-Man, breaking records and earning their money back quickly. It seems inevitable they will get their way.

Kids are going to see Reloaded at least twice, but everyone should be warned: Don't leave the theatre when the end credits roll. There's a coming-attractions trailer that doesn't give away much about Revolutions, but is cool to see anyway.