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Downloading Nancy

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Making a movie takes time, effort, energy, and money. While watching “Downloading Nancy,” I kept thinking: Why would you go to all that trouble just to make something so ugly?

Not that all movies have to be happy and upbeat, of course. But good “down” movies have a reason for their darkness. There’s a catharsis, or a commentary on the human condition, or something the audience can recognize as being true or insightful or meaningful.

“Downloading Nancy” is just ugly. It’s loathsome, vile, depraved, and classless. It fails to pass the “why would anyone want to watch this?” test. Even viewers who can handle some uncomfortable subject matter or bleak themes want a payoff, some point to it all. (And yes, at times that payoff can simply be that the film is grotesquely amusing, as in the so-called “torture porn” genre.) “Downloading Nancy” has none of that.

Shot on the cheap with garish lighting and snuff-film sets (even a therapist’s office looks suspiciously like the den of someone’s house), the film is about a woman named Nancy (Maria Bello) who has gone off to meet a stranger she found on the Internet. Her husband, a cold-fish entrepreneur named Albert (Rufus Sewell), believes she is visiting friends in Baltimore. He claims to be worried when he doesn’t hear from her for a couple days, but his behavior is awfully blasé for a frantic husband.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Nancy has been seeing a therapist (Amy Brenneman) to discuss the trauma of her childhood, where she was raped and otherwise harmed by her uncle. Her psychological issues have turned her into a raving nutcase, child-like one minute, disturbingly “adult” the next. She enjoys only aberrant sex, preferably involving pain and humiliation. And now she is meeting Louis (Jason Patric) to achieve the ultimate high (read: low).

First-time director Johan Renck, working from a brain-dead screenplay by first-timers Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross, shoves his brave actors through the paces without a shred of humanity. Maria Bello deserves praise for letting herself be as unglamorous and dejected as she appears in the film’s squirmier scenes, yet the dialogue scenes are often laughably trashy and shopworn.

“You can change your mind if you want,” Louis says.

“What, are you losing your [erection] already?” Nancy replies. “I came here to do this.”

I’m sorry — did someone sit on the remote control and change the channel to Cinemax?

Through it all — the abuse, the violence, the sexual deviance — Renck never achieves anything real. Ironically, in his arduous, sweaty attempt to be “provocative,” what he does instead is make something transparent and fake. There is no one in the film for us to like, relate to, sympathize with, or root for, or even anyone who seems like he or she is supposed to inspire such a reaction. The movie has no value whatsoever, not as drama, not as shock cinema, and certainly not as an honest examination of real problems.

F (1 hr., 32 min.; Not Rated, probably R for a lot of harsh profanity, plenty of blood, violence, nudity, and aberrant behavior.)

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