Untraceable

Movie Information

The Story: An FBI special computer-crime agent must track down a deranged killer who features his killings on an untraceable Web site. The Lowdown: One good actress -- Diane Lane -- and a decent cast are wasted in this dull, unpleasant mishmash of a thriller.
Score:

Genre: Sadistic Thriller
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross, Perla Haney-Jardine, Mary Beth Hurt
Rated: R

Untraceable? You’ll only wish it was. I have no idea what anyone involved in this shambles thought they were doing, but they ought to have thought twice, thought about it again—and then junked the whole enterprise. I know, I know, but you really like Diane Lane, right? Well, I like Diane Lane, too, but I’m getting awfully burned-out on the so-so to downright lame vehicles that she winds up in. This one is far and away the worst yet.

I don’t even care that it’s one of those utterly preposterous affairs where computers—you know those things that freeze up on you and hit you with incomprehensible error messages when you surf the Web—can do everything but take out the trash with the mere aid of a screenwriter and a dollop of geek speak. I’m not even especially troubled by the fact that its premise is a little too like a non-supernatural (and far less stylishly amusing) FeardotCom (2002). No, I’d be marginally satisfied—well, less cheesed—if the damned thing could ever figure out what it wants to be.

For about 20 minutes or so it’s a mystery. Who is doing these awful things? Then it decides to tell us—and all the while you’re hoping that it’s a setup for a surprise, but no, we really do find out who this fiend incarnate is. So for the next 40 minutes it turns into “why is he doing this?” A few bits of connect-the-dots, a Morse Code (!) clue (cribbed from an old Charlie Chan movie) and super FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Lane) with a Power Point presentation clears that up. Where does this leave us? Why with 30 minutes of absurd plot devices, a pointless setup that goes nowhere and a predictable climax that was virtually telegraphed in the first reel. (Memo to viewers: If something like a gas-powered garden tiller is arbitrarily introduced and focused on in reel one, expect to see it again.)

What does this leave us with? An unpleasant exercise in torture-porn lite—a Hostel picture for folks who wouldn’t be caught dead watching Hostel. The only thing is it’s worse, because it isn’t even honest about it, trying all the while to pass itself off as something deeper. It starts out in nasty mode—with unknown sadist/nutcase somewhat improbably starving a kitten to death with one of those sticky rattraps for the delight of some presumably very patient Web-surfing sickos via streaming video. (At one point, the movie was called Streaming Evil, which merely needs to lose the “r” to be pretty near the mark.)

Then our sadist turns his attention to a human being—with the trick being that more hits generated by his untraceable Web site causes the torture death to occur faster. This, of course, is the film’s purported heavy message—that our own voyeurism implicates us in the crime. That’s not unreasonable, but it’s something that ultimately applies to the filmmakers and their audience as well—with the filmmakers playing to our basest instincts at every turn. Frankly, it’s rather vile: The body count being lower than what one finds in most torture porn merely makes it more boring, not more high-minded.

I’ll concede that anyone who suffered through Orange County (2002) might enjoy Colin Hanks’ fate, but otherwise, the movie’s just another botched attempt by director Gregory Hoblit to make his own Silence of the Lambs (1991). In the overrated Fracture (2007), he tried with a copycat Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins, no less) and a sex-changed Clarice Starling clone (Ryan Gosling) doing the sophisticated monster vs. the hick-from-the-sticks shtick. Now, he’s got an ersatz Buffalo Bill, and is reduced to ripping off a police break-in scene from Jonathan Demme’s Lambs. This is getting downright sad. (I’d feel sorry for Hoblit if I hadn’t learned that he’s credited with creating the shaky-cam approach to filmmaking back in his days on TV’s NYPD Blue.) Sadder still is the simple fact that Diane Lane ever got within a hundred miles of this movie. Rated R for grisly violence and torture, and some language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

5 thoughts on “Untraceable

  1. It’s movies like this that make me want to look for my old taped-off-of-Showtime-in-1984 VHS copy of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains”.

  2. Dionysis

    “sadist/nutcase somewhat improbably starving a kitten to death”

    If I knew nothing else at all about this film, this piece of information alone would keep me from seeing it. I will not see any film that features abuse, mistreatment or the killing of any animal. Yes, I know “it’s just a movie,” but I will not patronize such a film just for that reason (if I know it ahead of time). I hated 8 LEGGED FREAKS and THE HOLLOW MAN because they both had such scenes in them.

    Maybe I’ll just pull out MESA OF LOST WOMEN instead. It has to be better than this bilge.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I’d be about the last person to argue that point with you.

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