Tank will not be bulldozed.

At least that's the message delivered in a lawsuit filed by the actor who helped save Keanu Reeves' holy butt in the first Matrix movie.

In the suit, Marcus Chong, best known to sci-fi fans as the driving force that was Tank, claims he was "blackball[ed]" and branded a "terrorist" by producers after his character was derailed from the sequels, according Los Angeles' City News Service.

Warner Bros. and the writing-directing Wachowski Brothers' Eon Productions are among the named defendants, per the wire service.

Chong's lawsuit, alleging breach of contract, slander and fraud, seeks the six figures he says he would have banked from the two new flicks, plus interest and other unspecified damages.

The Tank-less Matrix Reloaded drove home with $91.8 million last weekend, the second biggest three-day opening ever. The Matrix Revolutions, the trilogy's concluding chapter, is scheduled to start turning in November. Like its predecessor, Revolutions will not feature Tank, or Chong.

In Reloaded, newbie Zee (Nona Gay), Tank's sister, explains Tank's absence by saying he died during a mission on the Nebuchadnezzar. Link (Harold Perrineau), intro'd as Zee's hubby/Tank's brother-in-law, is at the controls of Morpheus' ship for the sequels.

In the original 1999 flick, Tank's Chong stood alongside Reeves' Neo, Carrie-Anne Moss' Trinity and Morpheus' Laurence Fishburne as the only humans to outlast, outplay and outwit their machine nemeses.

It's not clear why the actor, the 35-year-old adopted son of recently smoked-out comedian Tommy Chong, did not return for the sequels. In previous reports about the Link-for-Tank move, neither Warners nor Chong commented on his absence.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Chong copped to crashing a press junket, snatching food from production offices and crank-yanking the Wachowskis. All of this bad behavior, though, came after Chong had already been unloaded from Reloaded.

As to what got him unloaded in the first place? Warners isn't commenting on the lawsuit. Calls to Chong's attorney and the Wachowskis' Eon Entertainment were not immediately returned Monday.

In documents posted on the fan site, the Marcus Chong as Tank Coalition (boycottthematrix.com), a grassroots Web campaign protesting the actor's franchise freeze out, the dispute is shown to have centered on money. The site credits yet another pro-Chong site, the We Want Tank Coalition (www.geocities.com/wwtcoalition), with originally obtaining the material.

In an undated letter reputedly from Chong to Andy and Larry Wachowski, a string of deep-sounding, but vague thoughts ("Why suggest that either my faiths of anarchy must be chosen or my goals for profit."), give way to a bottom line: An offer of $250,000 for the two sequels is unacceptable. Either the studio will meet his price ($500,000, plus bonuses and guarantees he'll be invited to press junkets and premieres)...or he'll do the movies for free.

"I will do it for free because I love our project and want to protect the role and the integrity of the brothers' vision," Chong reputedly wrote.

In an October 2000 letter reputedly from the Wachowskis to Chong, the siblings, hailed as "mighty knights [who] shall truly break into Valhalla," in the Chong missive, say they understand the actor's stance, but think "it is in the best interest of all parties to move on."

In the aftermath, Chong's lawsuit claims producers "conspired to blackball [Chong] from further professional acting work in Hollywood and took efforts to defame [him]," City News Service reported.

An actor since childhood, Chong recently began work on his first post-Matrix flick, The Crow: Wicked Prayer.

The efforts of the two-year-old Marcus Chong as Tank Coalition, meanwhile, continue--even if both sequels are shot, in the can, and, in the case of Reloaded, in theaters. Webmaster Kira Jones says the group's letter-writing campaign will endure at least through the release of Revolutions.

"Aside from the fact that he's really cute, one of the things we really like about Tank is that we could really identify with him...We're all geeks, for lack of a better word," says Jones, a programmer. "I think Tank kind of represents [us]--he was the one who made things happen."

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