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*** This review was originally published by myself at http://www.epinions.com/content_172583915140 ***
The Net is a technological thriller starring Sandra Bullock, who plays Angela Bennett, a systems trouble-shooter with a particular interest in viruses. She is a typical nerd, sleeping little, living on take away food, having no boyfriend and practically no social life in the real world, preferring instead to spend all her time on the computer, logged into chat rooms, and the like. She receives a message from a friend / colleague (friendly colleague?) about something big thats about to happen, but no details he wants to meet her in person. Reluctantly she agrees to meet him only slightly before she has a flight to catch the following day, but , determined to go on holiday for the first time in ages, she decides to go even though her friend doesnt show up.
We soon find Bullock on the beach in a black bikini (yummy ), where her nerdling traits (on the beach with her laptop )are spotted by Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam [Emma, Enigma, Gosford Park]). After various events which I wont elaborate on here, she finds that her real identity had been stolen and that she herself is now wanted by police in several states. Whats more, she realises that far more is at stake than she could possibly have imagined and somehow, shes caught up right in the middle of it.
The cinematography is effective throughout the film, and Bullock puts in one of her better serious performances here (though I still think quirky comedy is still more her style). Her character is given a decent workout with the events in the film and Bullock is well up to the job. The hacking scenes are, surprisingly, relatively believable (certainly more so than those in Antitrust or Swordfish! but then how could they not be?!?!?). The script is, on the whole, fairly tightly plotted and the way someones life can be completely ruined simply through tampering with computer records is portrayed with quite frightening realism. (If it were not for the films major fault that Ill mention a bit later, I would definitely say that this film was a far more effective cautionary tale about the dangers of over-reliance on technology than any of the Matrix or Terminator films.) The ancillary actors and actresses (including Dennis Miller [Murder at 1600, Joe Dirt] are fine, nothing special but nothing wrong with their performances either. Northam as the baddie is suitably creepy, but his character is too inconsistent to be believable.
In fact, the scenes where he lets Angela get away are what ruin the whole film. His character is ruthlessly efficient, yet is guilty of child-like carelessness at times and gives up very quickly (for no satisfactory reason) on occasions. The trouble is, these inconsistencies prevent the viewer (except perhaps the very naïve or trusting!) from being able to suspend their belief in whats happening in the film. This is a shame as it turns what is otherwise a surprisingly effective techno-thriller into an entertaining, but ultimately somewhat disappointing film. Recommended only really to fans of Bullock and / or very undemanding entertainment. It just scrapes a Recommended rating from me since I do like our Sandra and it was actually a lot better than I thought it was going to be.
Directed by: Irwin Winkler [The Shipping News, De-Lovely, Enough, Rocky I V]
Writing credits: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris [Catwoman, Terminator 3, The Others]
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and brief strong language.
Runtime: 114 min
Year of release: 1995
Thanks for reading.
Sandra Bullock also starred in:
Murder By Numbers (awful cop drama)
Miss Congeniality (good, amusing satirical comedy - can't say I like the look of the sequel, though...)
Two Weeks Notice (excellent well I thought so, it seems to have received very mixed reviews!)
The Net is generic Hollywood movie-making, not at its most boring, but certainly at its most obvious and poorly researched. It has all the feeling of a dumb, glossy made for TV movie but with a big name star sitting in the lead role. Without a certain Miss Bullock riding on the crest of a highly successful movie called Speed which shot her into the limelight a little earlier I can in no way have imagined that this movie would have acheived anything other than to a straight to video release. It delves into the hi-tech world of hackers and the internet with all the expertise of your grandpa and his "where's middle C?" attitude when presented with a keyboard. In fact, if this does constitute your knowledge of computer systems then The Net may be slightly more pallatable, but I think in the years which have passed since this was produced things have moved on a little. No one is this dumb anymore. Sandra Bullock plays Angela, a woman who hasn't left her house in 4 years, prefering instead the comfort of cyberspace and her online friends. She works as a systems analyst, finding the holes in people's security systems, hunting viruses and such like, she doesn't even know her neighbours and has never visited her place of work. For the first time in 5 years she has a vacation planned to a lovely little beach in Mexico - that is until a mysterious disk arrives at her house. Nothing too unusual, thats what she does - people send her problem software, or viruses and she fixes the problems. This time however the frind who sent it to her is convinced that its something bigger than just a software glitch and demands to meet with her to get to the bottom of it - he won't discuss the matter over the phone. That friend winds up dead, his plane crashing before he can reach her - the beginning of a series of events which will turn Angela's world upside down. She takes the holiday meeting up with a suave James Bond style figure who it s
eems she just clicks with - he's her perfect man. They wine, they dine, he likes the things she likes - its all so perfect. Too perfect. You see, by receiving the disk and analysing the program, Angela has stumbled into a plot to hold a city to ransom - a plot run by a group known as the Praetorians who will stop at nothing to see their ends met. Mr. Perfect wants his disk back to cover his tracks and one way or another he'll get it! Angela escapes him but finds just what someone with a backdoor into the world's computer systems can do to a person's life. She finds her identity erased and replaced with that of someone else - someone wanted for multiple crimes and misdemeanors. The only person who can vouch for her identity are her ex-psychotherapist (and ex-boyfriend) and a mother who has alzheimers disease and doesn't recognise anyone any more. So then, on the run from the police, the Praetorians and who the hell knows who else, Angela must solve the mystery of the importance of the disk and fight to get her life back. The problem with The Net isn't entirely with the complete failure to do any kind of research into the 'realities' of the core subject matter though, because frankly, we all know Hollywood never feels it necessary to do so (look at the more recent offering from Swordfish for further proof) but instead with a plot so devoid of tension or intrigue and some of the most non-villaneous and pathetically accented villains I've seen in a long while. The plot is as paper thin as they come and stretched so wide over the rickety framework of ideas here that the holes are the kind you could drive a bus through(computer nerd gag in there someplace) and as for script, characterisation and all those other things which make for a decent movie - see the word 'generic'. There are simply too many questions which go unanswered and far too much just isn't plausible enough to keep you glued to the 'acti
on'. We are asked to swallow that not only is Angela the most beautiful computer nerd seen for quite a while, but that 4 years of sitting on ones butt 24/7 has no impact on ones figure and that nobody at all would recognise her face other than her mother and her ex-boyfriend. This is a woman who obviously never went to school, only ever had one boyfriend, has no family at all other than a mother with Alzheimers and has never been to her workplace - not even for an interview, never once met her neighbours, has absolutely no friends, never sent her picture to any friends on the net she apparently lives and dies on...etc. etc. This is central to the stolen identity thing, the core of the plot, you simply must swallow this if you are to even begin to swallow the other rubbish you will be force fed. The Net tries to play on the technophobic paranoia of the digital age, yet doesn't have enough intelligence to be able to even begin to tackle the issue. We are told a whole person's life is held online, if someone can key into that, then they can erase you from existence. An interesting concept, but one which even the least intelligent viewer can see as being not strictly true. To believe this is to believe that there is no such thing as a filing cabinet anymore, cameras are a thing of the past and people's memories are erased 5 minutes after you meet them. Sandra Bullock in the chief role is most diverting as always. Speaking from the red-blooded guy perspective its difficult to be totally disappointed or 100% objective about her performance because she is always...distracting. I can't say that she does anything here to set the world alight, neither does she crash and burn, but rather plays through a weak script with a one-dimensional character without any kind of attempt to add flair or sparkle to her role. Hers is a strictly by the numbers performance, accented by big hair and pearly whites which is going to distract us guys away fro
m the fact that were this an average looking lady in the same part we'd probably have probably become a lot more bored, rather more quickly. Her character is meant to be one who hasn't left her house for 4 years, prefering instead the comfort of her computer and cyber-space...excuse me if thats a little tough to believe - someone who sits on their butt 24/7 isn't going to be blessed with a body like that... The other main role goes to chief bad-guy henchman Jeremy Northam, a James Bond wannabee who has the most abysmal hybrid English combined with who-the-hell-knows-what accent I've seen on screen for quite some time. Hey, maybe he does talk like this - for his sake I hope not! His role as villain is signposted the moment he opens his mouth(because Europeans are always villains in trashy Hollywood movies) but as villains go, he ain't that good. Villains should be sleazy, horrible and totally hateful in one way or another so that you really care when they get their inevitable comeuppance at the end of the reel but he just comes across as mildly dislikable. Half of his screentime is spent being charming around the dinner table, the other half spent on a mobile phone - oooh, definitely worth being snuffed out in the final reel... Some of the stupidity is impossible to swallow. We are supposed to believe that a gang of super-hackers is smart enough to walk through the FBI security system, through numerous banks and computers all over the place but they can not hack into a doctor's medical records?!? The whole world seems to be after Bullock and yet she makes no attempt to disguise her appearance? Not even to wear a hat or something and still finds time for hair and make-up when she is meant to be on the run, on the edge of being caught and killed at any moment??! Getting those accused of multiple felonies out of jail is as easy as saying, "Hi, I'm FBI" and flashing a grin...news shows are devoted to nothing but the
contents of the movie plot so far...the moment someone walks on screen you can't tell their role is either to die, or shuffle the plot along a little, they do so and disappear without trace...ugh! Its just endless and totally moronic. I'm not averse to dumb movie-making, there's certainly enough of it out there, in fact the majority would fall into that category, but when there's not a single spark of intrigue or excitement or anything which is just plain 'different' damnit! Its just too much to swallow! I have two major, major problems with this movie. Its not that the characters are very cardboard or the script weak, although both of these are true. Its not that the plot is full of holes, or the techie side of things just plain ludicrous, because its a movie and you get used to it - anything more would be thrilling for the nerds and dull for everyone else. My two main problems are instead the complete lack of pace and urgency in what is basically a chase movie with hacking thrown in, and the way that even if you aren't really paying attention(and believe me, by halfway I wasn't) you can second-guess every single supposed 'twist' in the serpent's tale before you come to it. This latter comment comes from the fact that every 'twist' here comes from well used Hollywood devices such as the phoney cop, or the empty gun, or the phoney doctors getting at the 'safe' hospital patient...and so on. Add to this the obligatory chase at the fairground, the obligatory chase through the street carnival, the obligatory road chase with the big juggernaut getting in the way, the obligatory ticking time bomb phoney tension builder(this time replaced by downloading file meters) and the obligatory everything else in cheap, lazy thrillers and you have my problem with this movie in a nutshell! I suppose you ask yourself what you want from a movie to get the answer as to whether you're going to enjoy this.
Undoubtedly you can forgive the one dimensional characters, lazy acting and daft scripting in the same way that you've forgiven all this countless times before - but can you deal with a thriller without thrills, a chase movie with no sense of urgency and a screenplay written for those who don't like surprises? I don't expect to find myself heavy-lidded mid-afternoon when watching a movie like this but I was literally dozing off around halfway. Watch it if you are a fan of Bullock, otherwise, don't bother.
The Net, the first of Hollywood's big cyber-thrillers of the mid-1990s, was also the most successful, thanks in large part to the natural appeal of star Sandra Bullock. Still riding high from Speed and While You Were Sleeping, Bullock plays a computer expert victimised by sinister cyber-forces who steal her identity for reasons unknown. It's a clever combination of high-tech paranoia and Hitchcockian references (including Jeremy Northam as a romantic stranger named Devlin, after Cary Grant in Notorious). Film historians may look back someday on films like this--Roger Ebert calls them "hacksploitation"--to see what they reveal about our society's reaction to the increasing role of technology in our lives, just as we now study the fears of Communism and the atom bomb reflected in films of the 1950s. Dennis Miller and Diane Baker co-star. --Jim Emerson, Amazon.com