January 31, 2008

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Untraceable (R)
The horrors of the Internet (pop-up ads, Britney gossip, people’s lists of their favorite anything on MySpace) expand to include viewer-encouraged murder in Untraceable, a silly and somewhat dull Internet-can-kill-you movie.

Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) are buddy FBI agents working on catching Internet criminals — pervs, thieves and the like. Whilst surfing — which for these agents is official business — Jennifer spots “killwithme.com,” a Web site that features a real-time feed of a kitten slowly starving to death while stuck to one of those adhesive mouse traps set in front of a milk dish. Jennifer checks back a couple of times, reads some of the posts and figures out (by “zooming in” on a TV in the background) that the feed is coming from some place local (local being Portland, Ore.). Despite the fact that this cat is clearly not LOLing, Jennifer’s boss doesn’t take the feline death too seriously. The next time she checks the site, it’s not a cat on the ropes but a man with “kill with me” carved onto his chest who is hooked up to a contraption and slowly dying. Jennifer and Griffin quickly figure out that the increasing popularity of the site is hastening the man’s death. Every time a viewer logs on, a bit more of an anti-coagulation drug drips into his body, causing him to bleed faster from the chest wound.

As the man dies on live Internet, police join the case, including Detective Eric Box (Billy Burker), who soon takes a shine to Jennifer, a single mom whose late husband Eric knew. They don’t find the killer or the man in time but they get another shot when yet another victim appears on the Web site, this time dying much quicker thanks to the increased traffic.

Talk about your user-generated content.

Poor Diane Lane, flapping around in a limited pool of goofy romantic comedies. With this movie, she seems to be venturing into Jodie Foster territory — but this movie isn’t even as good as the limp The Brave One, Foster’s most recent thriller. Lane was fantastic in The Perfect Storm and people who liked Unfaithful liked her in that movie. Lane needs to muscle her way into dramas, picking up some of those Laura Linney-type roles.

Though Lane and Hanks do their best, the movie doesn’t offer them enough meat — only bits of personal drama and wisps of suspense without satisfying us with adequate helpings of either. The Internet blather seems lamer than normal and the movie misses several opportunities to inject actual interesting aspects of the Internet community (the ways in which it can sometimes police itself) into a story that is supposedly all about the People on the Internet. Ignoring that time-tested axiom that the thing you can’t see is scarier that the big goofy monster or criminal that a movie eventually delivers, Untraceable shows us a lot and rather soon in the movie, leaving us with no puzzle to solve and the only suspenseful aspect being how long it will take us to get to the tense-looking scenes we saw in the trailer.

And, at the risk of spoiling the surprise, the answer is “not soon enough.” C-

Rated R for some prolonged sequences of strong gruesome violence and language. Directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Robert Fyvolent, Mark Brinker and Allison Burnett, Untraceable is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed by Sony in wide release.