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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.7%
Worth A Look: 5.41%
Average: 27.03%
Pretty Bad: 18.92%
Total Crap45.95%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Lane Dead-End On the Information Superhighway"
1 stars

The new cyber-thriller “Untraceable” appears to have been designed to appeal only to the kind of people who unquestioningly sit through even the most ploddingly paced and gruesomely icky police procedurals, have an unyielding fondness for Diane Lane and who have never once touched a computer in their lives–in other words, it seems to have been made especially for my father. While I wouldn’t presume to speak for him, I’m sure that he appreciates the sentiment but I am even more sure that he would have really appreciated a film that was tense and gripping instead of merely grotesque, fiendishly clever and original instead of unintentionally hilarious and offered up a look at the perils of modern technology that didn’t contain up so many glaring technical errors that it makes “The Net” look like an almost Kubrickian example of factual scrupulousness by comparison.

Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, a Portland-based FBI agent assigned to the cyber-crime unit–along with wacky sidekick Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), she spends her evenings surfing the Internet and bringing down web-based criminals left and right before going home in the morning to adorable daughter Annie (Perla Haney-Jardine) and her cheerfully crotchety mother (Mary Beth Hurt, whose presence means that Paul Schrader will presumably have to sit through the film at some point). One night, while doing her part to protect the rights of massive entertainment conglomerates by ensuring that no one dares pirate their material (no doubt so that the can quickly pass on a fair share of the legal on-line earnings to the writers who created the content in the first place), Jennifer stumbles upon a mysterious website called in which a cute little kitten appears to have been tortured and killed. She tries to shut the site down but despite her technical savvy–at one point, it seems as if she even managed to get Windows Vista to work–she discovers that not only does it keep reappearing, there is no way to trace it back to its original source to find the person behind it. Naturally, Jennifer assumes that this is bad news and warns that dire things may happen but her boss, whose only job seems to be pooh-poohing everything she says as being highly unlikely until it is too late, tells her that she is being paranoid and goes back to his office, no doubt to do the important work that ensures that no one illegally downloads a copy of “Amityville II: The Possession.”

Naturally, Jennifer’s worst fears come true and the next time that the site goes up, a local man who has gone missing is on the screen with cuts all over his body and hooked up to IV’s filled with anti-coagulants. It turns out that as the number of viewers to the site increase, so does the rate that the fluids enter the body and before long, there has been enough traffic to kill him–as our heroine puts it, “We are the murder weapon,” a line that is not quite as deathless as the bit in “Body of Evidence” when Joe Mantegna turns to Madonna during his opening statement in court and decrees that “Her body is the murder weapon,” though it does come close–and the publicity surrounding the crime ensures that when its next victims go up, one surrounded by blazing heat lamps and the other left in a vat that will soon fill with acid, the number of looky-loos will ensure that they will die even quicker. Now teamed up with a caustic and by-the-book cop (Billy Burke), Jennifer, when she isn’t busy weeping at the horrors she is seeing or taking one of many showers (alas, they are behind those new-fangled shower doors that have been designed solely to ensure that the Good Parts never show, no matter what the shower-takers position might be), frantically tries to find a connection between the various victims that might enable her to figure out who the perpetrator might be, a duty that becomes especially important when it appears that said psycho is tracking her down as well and dumping bodies almost literally on her doorstep.

Blandly directed by Gregory Hoblit (whose previous films have ranged from such not-uninteresting genre exercises as “Primal Fear” and “Fracture” to such not-at-all-interesting genre exercises as “Fallen” and “Hart’s War”), “Untraceable” is one of the kind of brain-dead programmer that seems to have been designed to play in empty theaters in the middle of January. The chief problem with the film is that while it has been made with a certain style (though one that owes equally enormous debts to “Seven” and the various permutations of “CSI”), that style is working in the service of one of the most ridiculous thriller screenplays in a long time. Look, I am willing to overlook a certain amount of illogic if it helps to make for a more entertaining story but the script by Robert Fyvolent & Mark Brinker and Alison Burnett goes way off the deep end right from the start and never becomes plausible for a second. Even if you are willing to buy the idea that a.) this website is really untraceable and b.) the NSA would forbid the FBI from using their supercomputer to help track down the perpetrator on the basis that they wouldn’t dream of using it to spy on American citizens, there are just too many loopholes and loose ends on display for even the most indulgent viewer to swallow. For starters, once the Feds realize that someone is in danger of being burned to death with hundreds of heatlamps, wouldn’t you think that they could use their thermal-mapping capabilities to figure out what house in cold, rainy Portland was suddenly emitting hundreds of degrees of heat from one concentrated location. Then, of course, there is the explanation that ties all of the victims to the killer–as deployed here, it demonstrates the kind of unintentionally hilarious overplotting that even Dario Argento himself might have questioned from a logical standpoint.

When it isn’t being downright ludicrous, the script is busy being boring and repetitive in the way that it trots out one cliche after another. You may recall Chekhov’s Law of Relevance, the theatrical maxim that states that if one introduces a gun in the first act, one must fire it by the last? This is a rule that the film follows slavishly, though I must admit that it may be the first time I have ever seen it applied in which the gun has been replaced with such items as eyelids blinking Morse code and a roto-tiller. The characters are all walking cliches and when they have served their narrative purpose, they just disappear from the screen and are never seen again. Hell, even the premise of people on the Internet being invited to enter a website in order to witness what may or may not be the real murder of a real person, is hardly fresh these days. At the same time that the cops were bemoaning the fact that they have never seen a crime as fiendish as this, I started jotting down a list of older films that have employed exactly that same premise–without even thinking of it, I came up with titles ranging from Oliver Assayas’s hypnotic “Demonlover” to Dario Argento’s largely misbegotten “The Card Player” to the cheeseball likes of “” and I understand that a few TV shows have used it as well. The film is so relentlessly dull that when it actually introduces us to someone who looks like the killer fairly early in the proceedings, I assumed that it was a red herring to throw us off the scent but it turns out that this person really is the killer–the script was just too eager to get to the gross stuff to bother with any of that pesky and time-consuming mystery or suspense.

Which leads me to perhaps the most offensive aspect of “Untraceable”–the amazingly self-righteous and hypocritical attitude that it maintains throughout in regards to audience appetites for media violence. Throughout the story, the various characters are constantly railing about the sickness of a media system that allows images of unimaginable brutality to enter homes via television and the Internet and the depravity of an audience that eats up every grisly image without giving a second thought to the horrors they are watching or to the people whose personal tragedies have been reduced to website fodder. This is a viewpoint that is entirely valid and worth exploring, I suppose, but it is one that I would probably have been able to take a little more seriously if the movie itself weren’t so obsessed with supplying viewers with more than its own fair share of grisly images–in the “Plot Keywords” section of the film’s IMDB listing, we are promised such sights as “snuff,” “shirtless male bondage,” “serial killer” and “torture.” It is possible to make a film that condemns the excess of violent entertainment while still including those very same elements–Michael Haneke did it brilliantly in his terrifying 1997 masterpiece “Funny Games”–but to do so would require a level of intelligence that is nowhere on display here.

And yet, the most depressing and disappointing thing about “Untraceable” is the sight of seeing Diane Lane going through the motions of a film that plays like something that Ashley Judd would have tossed on her reject pile back when she was cranking out duds like “High Crimes” and “Twisted.” I have been a fan of Lane’s for a long time now–she earned both a lifetime pass and a lifetime crush from me for her appearance in the Walter Hill cult classic “Streets of Fire”–and after a long period of time in which Hollywood seemed to have no idea as to what to do with her, I was thrilled when her performance in “Unfaithful” earned her an Oscar nomination and seemed to offer her the promise of a long-overdue comeback. Since then, however, the paychecks may have gotten better but since then, there has been one uninspired film after another (such as “Must Love Dogs” and “Under the Tuscan Sun”) that were enlivened only by her radiant screen presence. With this film, she isn’t even allowed to do that–all she gets to do is say lines that we’ve heard a hundred times before, track down suspects in ways that we have seen a thousand times before and spend most of the finale bound, gagged and dangling over the whirring roto-tiller from the first act. Sure, there is plenty of murder and mayhem to be seen in “Untraceable” but the utter waste of Diane Lane is by far the biggest crime on display here and by choosing to do the film in the first place, the victim is as guilty as everyone else involved.

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originally posted: 01/25/08 16:00:00
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User Comments

4/11/21 morris campbell boring trash 1 stars
9/12/09 BoyInTheDesignerBubble I laughed when Colin Hanks allowed his bad acting to ruin his death scene. 1 stars
1/17/09 Anonymous. flawed but not as bad as they're saying, worth a look for suspense fans. :P 4 stars
9/18/08 Cal Very good film, Despite all the bad reviews. 5 stars
5/19/08 action movie fan fairly good computer crime thriller 3 stars
4/13/08 damalc potential to be brilliant but just forgettable 3 stars
4/01/08 will i am it's okay 3 stars
3/09/08 Bubba O'Reilly Diane Lane.....mmmm...... oh wait, there was a so-so movie, too 2 stars
3/06/08 PAUL SHORTT Outrageously flawed and cliched 1 stars
2/08/08 Anthony Feor It promises a good storyline, acting and suspense. And that's wht we get. 4 stars
1/30/08 Ming not worth it...Killing a kitten is not cool 1 stars
1/28/08 duncan mcdonald what a ridiculous piece of crap this movie is. 1 stars
1/27/08 Jeffrey Gardner After Videodrome, what is the point? 3 stars
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  25-Jan-2008 (R)
  DVD: 13-May-2008



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