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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look: 37.5%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 6.25%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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On Line
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by Brian McKay

"You can't always judge a movie by the DVD snap case"
4 stars

The biggest perk of being a critic is, of course, the free movies. Usually they come via access to advanced screenings and film festivals, but sometimes they show up in your mailbox courtesy of the DVD Fairy (or rather, publicists and filmmakers hawking their wares). When I received a DVD of ON LINE in the mail, out of the blue and without even a press kit attached, I looked at the cover and laughed. With its picture of the backside of a naked woman facing a computer monitor (or a naked man on the back cover) and a tag line like "You're never alone", I dismissed it as a schlocky late-night skinemax type of production, a soft-core flick with pretensions of being some kind of internet-based thriller. I tossed it atop the pile of other screener DVD's I haven't had time to get to (Hell, I can barely keep up with my Netflix queue these days).

But after a weekend of unpacking in a new place, and with the cable not yet installed, I decided to throw ON LINE into my DVD player with a sense of both curiosity and resignation. I was expecting very little plot and a whole lot of titties. Man, was I wrong!

This is not to say that the plot doesn’t get pretty thin and contrived in places – because it does. But On Line carries enough energy, style, wit, and strong acting to help it rise above its underpinnings of mediocrity. The subjects of On Line are five jaded New Yorkers and one lonely gay college kid from Ohio, all of whom come in contact with each other through the internet – or, more specifically, a live sex chat website owned by two of the characters and frequented by the rest.

Buddies since college, John (Josh Hamilton) and Moe (Harold Parinneau) share a New York apartment and run their sex site out of it. Josh is the tech side of their two-man startup, although he seems to spend a lot less time writing code than pining away after the Fiancé’ who dumped him the year before, or following the exploits of “Angel Cam”, a young woman who has every room in her house wired with web cams and likes to undress in front of them frequently (Inspired by the real life “Jenny-Cam” – don’t ask how I know about that.). Meanwhile, Moe is the entrepreneurial side of their little venture, although he seems to be more interested in bringing home some strange every night, rather than meeting with investors and the like.

But although we never see either of these two doing any actual work, the money seems to be rolling in as their site hosts a variety of freelance cyber-whores, and takes a cut from each transaction. One of these freelancers is Jordan (Vanessa Ferlito), a dead-sexy brunette with a rock-hard body who freely admits that she masturbates for a living and screws just about everyone who crosses her path and throws her a winning smile (like Moe), but is usually unsatisfied with the outcome. Another freelancer is Al (John Fleck), a middle-aged gay man who specializes in kinky role-playing, and has his own string of failed relationships. Al’s favorite client is Ed (Eric Milligen), a lonely and desperate gay college kid in Akron, Ohio, who is looking for any kind of companionship – even if it’s of the $3.99 a minute variety. Ed also hangs out on-line with Moira (Isabelle Gillies), a pretty but insecure girl who works at a coffee shop and frequents the same chat room that Ed does – a place for people who are considering suicide.

When Moira meets up with Moe in real life, and John has a steamy on-line session with Jordan that leaves her hungry for more, the four of them end up going out on a double date, with disastrous results for everyone involved. This leads to one of the characters attempting suicide on their web cam, as the others try to find them in time to save them via a “Six degrees of separation” scenario.

Granted, the idea of all of these characters somehow knowing each other on-line or just happening to come across each other in the real world is pretty thin. In fact, at times the whole plot seems to be a house of cards as the contrivances begin to stack up. But thankfully, some good performances and a script that’s usually more clever than not keep it all from tumbling in on itself. While nobody gives a performance that is the stuff of legends, none of them are grating or overwrought either. All of the players give their characters just the right chemistry, and the film comes off as an interesting dissertation on the lure of the Internet, and the way in which these people can only gain enough confidence to deal with other people through it. John, for example, is a cyber-sexual dynamo in his session with Jordan, leaving her hungry for more and eager to meet him. But when they meet in real life, he’s a milquetoast who she quickly loses interest in – only for Moe to pick up the ball that John has dropped. And even Moe, who has no problem getting laid on a regular basis, becomes susceptible to the lure of cybersex (as a participant in it, rather than a mere peddler of it).

Although far-fetched at times, ON LINE gives us likable enough characters to keep us interested in them, and several laugh out loud moments. Director Jed Weintrob has a distinct visual flair (although the use of split-screens and blurry, dreamlike sequences are a bit excessive at times). Even when the story nearly stumbles over itself, he keeps the pacing crisp and the characters interesting. Using “66” by the Afghan Whigs as the closing credits track is also a nice touch, wrapping things up on just the right note.

Its flaws aside, ON LINE was a mostly pleasant experience, and while many of these free screeners I receive often end up going into a box in the closet, this one actually went up onto the shelf - next to the DVD’s I paid for.

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originally posted: 05/06/04 04:25:32
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User Comments

6/26/03 Miami5 Hot film. Saw it at Sundance! 5 stars
6/24/03 hjcm guang xi nian ning 1 stars
6/17/03 andrew roth Saw at GenArt, it's great! 5 stars
6/17/03 Kerry Saw it at Sundance! It's a hot f*cking movie! Great acting, great visuals. 3 stars
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