I like Diane Lane. In fact, there was a time when I thought she was going to be the next big thing. For a short time, just after Unfaithful and before Under the Tuscan Sun, I thought she had it. Now, though, it is clear her career is just not to be. Untraceable is not as bad of a film as many critics suggested, but it isn't a good film, either. A movie that tries to merge adult thriller and torture porn through a bunch of technobabble, Untraceable almost succeeds, but just fails to connect.
The movie stars Lane as FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh, a cybercop who tracks down hackers, embezzlers and more. She's pretty good at her job, at least according to the few random technical terms the screenwriters force upon her to make her sound like she knows what she's doing. When Marsh stumbles across a website that offers to kill a puppy in real time based on the amount of visitors it receives, she believes there is something bad going on, but with no easy way to track the owner - he's set up a complex system to bypass the U.S. government's attempts to shut him down - her boss shrugs it off as something minor. But when a new victim - a man this time - appears on the site, Marsh and the rest of the FBI realize that they have a real situation on their hands. The more visitors that come to the site, the faster the victim dies, and in a day where things can grow virally, the word is about to get out.
Movies based on deadly websites have almost always been bad. Feardotnet comes to mind. The problem is that you get a bunch of screenwriters who don't know nearly enough about the technical field they're writing about along with an assumption that anything involving technology is trendy and cool and will attract audiences just because of that. Ultimately, as always, it boils down to story, writing and quality, and these "website thrillers" rarely offer a good combination of the three. Untraceable comes about as close to quality as any in the sub-genre, but it still struggles with a pretty uneven and ultimately ludicrous concept.
Untraceable starts out well, keeping things simple and mysterious. As the gore begins to mount, though, you realize that director Gregory Hoblit is going for shock value, perhaps trying to make up for a lack of overall cohesion. There's nothing wrong with a little gore here and there, and in fact the gore in Untraceable is pretty well done, but when found in a movie that is criticizing society for both its reliance on technology and its obsession with inappropriate things, the story begins to look hypocritical. Hypocrisy doesn't really bother me, though. When the bad guy hacks into Diane Lane's car and takes control of it, you realize that the screenwriters are pushing things a little too far. Maybe that could happen, but they're just trying to force the "technology-is-everywhere-and-it's-bad" philosophy down our throats. Still, I don't really care about that, either.
Ultimately, Untraceable is just a subpar thriller. It isn't terrible, but it lacks suspense and excitement. Lane isn't particularly great in the lead, probably because it's just hard to buy someone as good looking and normal as her being a master at taking on hackers in cyberspace. Colin Hanks is a much better fit for the assignment, but against Lane he also seems out of place. The villain is also hard to buy into, and is introduced too late to leave any kind of lasting mark.
You could do worse, but you're not going to get any smarter by watching Untraceable. In a season where not too many good DVDs are being released, this one might be worth a rental, but I can hardly recommend this film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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