Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gregory Hoblit

Cast: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross, Mary Beth Hurt, Peter Lewis

MPAA Rating:  (for grisly violence and torture, and some language)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 1/25/08

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I'm supposed to writing a review of Untraceable, but instead I'm surfing online. That should be your first clue about how interested I am to talk about the movie. So I'm online, and I realize that I am completely secure in the knowledge that no one is going to send me an e-mail luring me to my inevitable death, which will be broadcast in live, streaming video. That's the premise of the movie, which is supposed to get us all worked up about the content of the Internet and scared about how easy it would be for someone to set up a website where people are killed and no one can do anything about it.

It's dated technophobia, to be sure, but that's really only a smidgen of what makes Untraceable so utterly forgettable in its complacent predictability. The movie combines a regular, old police procedural thriller with elements of that so-called "torture porn" subgenre the kids seem to like too much. Those later elements are really the only thing that sets this apart from the countless other cop-tracks-down-a-killer movies out there, because for all its clichéd plot points and stock characters, it's obvious screenwriters Robert Fyvolent, Mark R. Brinker, and Allison Burnett are more concerned about coming up with graphic death scenes than anything else.

There's a basement, a web cam, a large sticky rattrap, and a cat, and you can probably figure out the rest. Later, Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), an FBI agent in the cybercrime division in Portland, arrives at work to hunt down criminals using the Internet to steal identities and other fiendish things. Her cubicle partner Griffin (Colin Hanks), on the other hand, uses online date sites to find a woman, since he spends all his time on the Internet hunting down people who spend all their time online (It's a vicious cycle, much like my roundabout attempts to finish this review).

Someone in the office hands Marsh a note with the title of a website she needs to check out. It's called "Kill with Me" and features the web cam image of a dead cat stuck in a large, sticky rattrap in an anonymous basement. She's worried that from the cat the website operator might move on to worse things, but trying to trace down the origin of the site is impossible. She tells her boss (Peter Lewis) this in a lot of techno babble, and the boss has the service of telling her he doesn't understand any of it so that Griffin can explain it with more techno babble.

The site goes down and comes back up with a new image: a man chained up with tubes dripping an anticoagulant into his system. The more people that visit the site, the faster the man will die from blood loss. There are a few other scenarios of imminent death that include cooking a victim with sunlamps, someone dangling over a rusty lawnmower, and sulfuric acid pumping into water (that Marsh's boss has to explain that sulfuric acid and water does not make a good match is beyond redundant). They're graphic, especially the sunlamp one, but comparatively low key compared to what we've seen in the last five years (which says something about the state of horror movies).

If only the writers cared as much about the characters as they did about inventive death scenes, we might have been spared the usual suspects. Marsh is a single mother whose work gets in the way of parenting so much that she has to leave her daughter's birthday party to watch another death online. Griffin cracks wise and has such insights as, "It's a jungle in there," to let us know how bad the Internet can be. There's even the hardnosed, no-nonsense Detective Box (Billy Burke), who does the footwork while Marsh works on her computer.

The first part of the movie gathers a little interest for trying to figure out who the killer is, but thankfully, the script doesn't resort to a guess-the-killer structure. Instead, it harshly wedges in the 20-year-old Owen Reilly (Joseph Cross), a kid with a personal grudge against all things online, about halfway through. As a villain, Reilly's presence relies entirely on his murder designs, the gimmick of the over 25 million people who visit his site as accomplices, and nothing more. He also somehow manages to hack into Marsh's SUV's onboard computer system, which is unlikely but less forgivable because it's entirely pointless; the fact that she's dumb enough to get back in the car without properly checking it out is even less so.

Even though the movie gives us a villain from the relative start, there are still a lot of plot points that are telegraphed early on. A major character gives an idea of how the victims could give information and later tells Marsh that he knows vital information, so we know that one's a goner. Marsh's boss gives her time off to get away from the case before the killer is actually caught, which of course only will only put her in closer to the case than she'd prefer.

Untraceable is far too basic a formulaic thriller to strive for any ambition beyond its "Internet bad" theme. It's by the numbers and predictable, and the last act becomes more than a bit silly (The car computer hijacking is just the beginning). Strangely, the very thing the movie decries is the only thing into which it seems to have put any thought.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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