Sunday, May 1, 2011

Untraceable

Thanks to writing reviews for The X-Files, I have developed a sudden interest in the FBI. By what turned out to be an unfortunate stroke of luck, I happened upon Untraceable on cable and decided to give the cyber age FBI procedural film a view. It is not something I recommend.

Diane Lane stars as an FBI cyber crimes guru who is after a serial killer who captures people to put them in eventually fatal torture devices as part of a regular web show. The gimmick is the more people who click on his website to watch the murders, the faster the victims are killed. His message is that we are all accessories to murder. If no one watched, the victims would not die.

The film is a mix of technical police procedure, techno babble, and gruesome scenes of torture. Those three elements combine to make boring sequences of gathering evidence and the completely fanciful way computers work in Hollywood’s view interrupted by extreme violent deaths of the Edgar Alan poe variety. It does not take long to realize the last bits are meant to be a distraction from hoqw dry and boring the other two elements are.

Why are they dry and boring/ for one, the typical trappings of these kinds of films are hinted at, but never utilized. Lane is given a potential love interest in her partner, played by billy Burke, but nothing ever happens between them. Lane herself plays a single mother who lives with her mother and daughter in a creaky old house. You assume at some point her mother or daughter will be caught by the killer, but that does not happen, either. Where is the emotion in the story? There really is not any. It is all a moraL about voyeurism. The audience is supposed to feel guilty we would watch people being brutally murdered live on the internet, but we are all denying that we ever watch such a thing, so big deal, right?

The computer oriented aspects are glossed over. Why is the killer’s website untraceable? There is some excuse given, but even with my limited knowledge of how all this stuff works, I did not buy it. Neither will anyone who actually does know a lot about computers. You have to get this sort of thing right in a movie whose plot hinges on a subject in which lots of people are obsessively knowledgeable.

I am not a big fan of gore, but I can accept it when it adds to a story. Sometimes it is necessary in order to accentuate the sadism of an evil character. But here, gore is for the sake of gore. I doubt even fans of this sort of thing will go for what Untraceable puts on screen. It is not even on par with some of the laughably bad torture devices of the contemporary Saw series.

All the above criticism is a matter of personal taste. Someone else may find such highly entertaining. But for me, the ending blows any chance Untraceable had at a potential re-watch down the road to see if I have a new perspective at a later viewing. Since I have warned I can and will spoil the heck out of any film I review, I am going to spell it all out for you. If you are bound and determined to watch Untraceable against my advice, skip the next two paragraphs.

Lane is captured by the killer in the climax. She is hung up by her ankles and slowly lowered into spinning saw blades on a live show. It is noted 27 million people are watching, which I find hard to believe, but the numbers speed up her slow decent into the blades. At this point, Burke has figured out how to trace the killer’s whereabouts, so he and a team of agents are coming to her rescue. No need, though. The killer is distracted enough that she can swing on the rope around her ankles enough to grab unto something so she can hold herself away from the saw blades, free herself, and then shoot the guy. Roll credits.

Yes, roll credits.

The movie abruptly ends on his corpse. There is no wrap up. No reuniting of Lane and Burke. In fact, the whole bit about the FBI agents coming to her rescue is unresolved. It is literally as though the producers ran out of money and just had to end the movie right now. The only good aspect of the ending is that it is such an abrupt surprise, you will forget how dumb it is the killer, standing five feet away, does not notice Lane is swinging her way to freedom. Oh, and there is gun nearby. He should have enabled comments. That way a viewer could have told him to turn around for a moment.

Think what you will about how well the film is made up until that point, the ending is a dud. What is further disappointing is one expects better from director Gregory Hoblit, who was a producer for Hill Street Blue, LA Law, and NYPAD Blue. How can a talented guy with a history of creative success drop the ball so badly with a feature film? It boggles the mind.

At the risk of piling on, I think lane was severely miscast. An actress with an action movie pedigree might have improved things marginally. Hers was a role more suited for Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Garner, or Uma Thurman. I am not certain any of those actresses could have salvaged the film, but one might have made watching the main character more interesting. Or forced the powers that be to spruce up the love interest aspect. Or shown some nudity. Or appealed to the bondage crowd. Something--anything--more than the final product as it is now would have been appreciated. Untraceable wants to be Seven meets Saw. Fans of neither will enjoy it.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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