Thursday, January 31, 2008

Untraceable (2008)

I'm glad to have seen this, if for no other reason than because now I know what it looks like when you make a torture porn movie that grandmothers can enjoy. It's Hostel meets Under the Tuscan Sun*, and the audience I saw it with lapped it up.

The premise is clever: a psycho launches a website showing a victim being slowly killed. The more hits the website gets, the faster the murder proceeds. Meanwhile, Diane Lane and her FBI partners investigate and bemoan their inability to stop the maniac.

It's a concept that could have been taken a number of different ways, and the route taken by director Gregory Hoblit is revealing of the differences between 'horror' and 'suspense thrillers' targeted at mainstream audiences - and that just because a movie decides to be 'respectable' doesn't mean that it's actually a quality piece of work.

So here's what you do if you have a torture porn-script but you want to expand your demographic base beyond the youth market: Hire a sensitive, yet tough actress for the leading role a la Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs; keep the gore and the violence (that's what people are there for) but tone them down; make most of the movie's victims men to avoid the stain of sexist exploitation; add in a lot of gently hypocritical handwringing about how violence in the media is corrupt and debasing to take away the residual guilt in the audience's mind about being there, with a few backhanded political swipes at such foolish ideas as "Net Neutrality" and preventing NSA supercomputers from spying on American citizens; and above all, keep the production values up high, with strong cinematography and art direction, to keep the audience from realizing that they're still watching your standard scummy torture movie.

The result is a movie that entertains but doesn't have anything substantive to say, that raises interesting points about violence online and in the media but uses them hypocritically or for simple shock value. I can't say I was offended by the movie, but honestly, I would have preferred if the filmmakers were a little more imaginative and a little less interested in making a movie that would climax with the cathartic death-wish glee of seeing a tough woman blow away a demented young man. It's too easy. I want to make a time machine and bring '70s-era Larry Cohen or Brian DePalma to make this movie the right way. Oh well.

* I call first dibs on this for a pitch. Don Murphy, you know how to reach me.


glimmer said...

loved the review !!! :)

you may have called first on it but i'm still gonna rip you off. :)

oh this is funny review from bop's(box officeprophets) weekend preview for jan 25-27

Untraceable must be thankful that Meet the Spartans is out this weekend, since it saves it from being hands down the worst film of the weekend. Threatening to make The Net look like a computer science lecture, it stars Diane Lane as a government cyber-cop of some kind who tracks down hackers and other computer related bad guys. Enter the villain, who gets Lane's attention with a Web site that's designed to kill a man after it reaches a certain number of hits. Trying to catch him... actually, just wait a minute.

Before I go any further with this, I'd like to say a few words about how fundamentally stupid the idea for this movie is. Not just the premise, mind you, but the casting. I have nothing against Diane Lane, and I think she's a fine actress. However, hardcore female computer experts do not look like Diane Lane. Don't think you've caught me in some sort of "smart women can't be beautiful" or "women don't use computers" trap either – considering the male compatriot of Lane in the film is played by Colin Hanks. I realize we're trying to sell tickets here, and there are no real "ugly" women in Hollywood, but this is like trying to sell Orlando Bloom as, oh, say a badass pirate, and... what? They did? Oh for the love of...

Anway, despite it being the equivalent of saying to a eight-year-old, "don't you eat these cookies I put on the table", the government agency tells the public not to visit this Web site, because, you know, it'll kill the guy. Predictably it does, and the cat and mouse game between the anonymous computer dude and Lane goes forward, with him doing impossible things like hacking into things that aren't connected to networks. He's just that good!

With the casting of Lane and the blatant disregard for reality, Untraceable's demographic is your elderly relative who's still not comfortable using her "e-mail machine" and that slightly loopy dude who thought Y2K meant his microwave was going to stop working. I'll give it a little potential for being able to wrench some suspense out of its premise, but this is a bit like staging a World War II movie on the moon, without spacesuits, and the Nazis are all lizards. Let's say $8 million for this can call it a day.

Jeff McMahon said...

Not bad review there. I didn't have a problem with Lane's casting since that's your typical Hollywood humdrum. And I don't think it's really a bad movie - it succeeded in being generally entertaining - but it's your basic junk food undergirded by a questionable foundation.

Actionman said...

I haven't seen the film (and probably won't ever) but your review makes it seem like the sort of thing Brian De Palma would have done about 20 or 30 years ago, and a film that I'd like to see De Palma attempt in the future.