In 1995, when Sandra Bullock appeared in “The Net,” the World Wide Web was new enough that audiences could be creeped out by the film’s techno-paranoia. In 2008, when Diane Lane is starring in “Untraceable,” the idea of being afraid of the Internet’s omnipresence is kind of funny. The film is trying to tap into a fear that just isn’t there anymore.
And so “Untraceable” feels like the movie equivalent of a clueless old person ranting about the Internet (old people being the ones who are still afraid of the Net and conservative enough to think the government ought to control it). “This whole Internet thing is out of control!” the movie seems to say. “The kids can put anything they want on it, even movies and pictures, and nobody’s regulating it! Why, there’s even computers and Internets in our cars nowadays! Some crazy person could get a hold of it and prevent you from operating your vehicle! I turn my computer off at night so that an e-burglar can’t crawl through my Internet and e-rape me!”
Public executions streaming live on the Internet? “Untraceable” thinks we are headed that way, and that predicting it makes the film chillingly observant. And that would be the case — if the prediction weren’t commonplace by now. Where were you 10 years ago, movie, when your ideas would have been cutting-edge rather than fusty?
Set in Portland (which I love), the film stars Lane (who I also love) as Jennifer Marsh, an FBI agent who works in cyber-crimes. Like all FBI agents in movies, she is an expert profiler. In the opening sequence, she sends local police to bust down a guy’s door — without a warrant or anything — because she speculates that he must be the one leeching wifi access from his neighbor and using it to commit online fraud. Marsh doesn’t even check the backgrounds of any of the woman’s other neighbors. SHE’S JUST THAT GOOD.
She and her predictably nerdy coworker Griffin (Colin Hanks) are tipped off about a new website called KillWithMe.com, at which we see live video of a man slowly being killed. The more people who visit the site, the more deadly drugs are pumped into his system. Basically, anyone who watches is an accomplice … TO MURDER!
The Feds can verify that it’s coming from Portland, but whoever has programmed it is sophisticated enough to keep them guessing about its exact location. Marsh and company go through the expected false leads and clue-hunting, and Marsh’s boss performs the expected act of taking her off the case, which stops her from working on it for the expected three seconds before she resumes her investigation.
It’s directed by Gregory Hoblit, who has done better work in last year’s “Fracture” and 2000’s “Frequency.” Still, he keeps a brisk pace and makes sure most of the computer usage is somewhat believable, though he can only do so much with the by-the-numbers screenplay. It’s a dumbed-down version of “Silence of the Lambs,” or a smartened-up version of a later “Saw” movie, told from the cops’ point of view instead of the victims’. If you still think the idea of meeting someone you met on the Internet is a terrifying and bizarre notion, “Untraceable” will scare the pants off you. Otherwise, you might as well stay home and watch the YouTubes on your Interwebs.
C+ (1 hr., 40 min.; )