9 April 2008 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Untraceable
So I thought I'd take a break from the Festival and get down to some regular screening of what some would deem as the usual products from the usual assembly line. Untraceable became that movie, because the poster here had Ebert giving it a positive rating, but everyone else I heard had panned it. Directed by Gregory Hoblit, who was at the helm of one of my favourite movies Frequency, I thought I'd give it a shot.
The premise was interesting enough to appeal to geeks, at least some parts of it. A serial killer with the technical know-how sets up a site, and uses the power of the internet as well as the voyeuristic nature of the online denizens to aid in the kills, meaning the more hits the site receives during an online, live execution, the faster the victim will die. Needless to say should he slap an ad on the site, it'll rake him enough dough to retire. And the police can't do anything about it because of bureaucratic red tape in terms of jurisdictions, and of course, the killer being a gifted cracker.
In the veins of torture porn movies, it does showcase some rather sick though innovative ways of brutally dispatching someone, although it doesn't resort to ramping up the gore element unnecessarily. There were some nifty visual effects and makeup, but for those weaned on the Saw franchise and its wannabes, then Untraceable doesn't provide anything new. So goes the usual cliché storyline of cops, led by Diane Lane's FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh, Colin Hanks' Agent Griffin Dowd and Portland Detective Eric Box (BIlly Burke), going after the elusive killer whose only presence is online, until it becomes personal and hits closer to home with the obvious plot development involving family and friends.
But unlike its title, there's nothing much untraceable about this hunter and prey game, and provides you with very little connection or psychological challenge in outwitting, outlasting and outplaying each other. It doesn't attempt to build up the great "unknown" about the killer in a whodunnit fashion, and only weaves through a connection of convenience. However, Untraceable does have genuinely tension building moments, and you do find yourself sitting at the edge of your seat during certain segments, but that's about it, as the rest of the time, it's just plain sailing in expected waters.
I felt that while it had some message to say about online netizens and anonymous chatter in general, it doesn't quite achieve what it had set out to do. You get to see snapshots of essentially a chatroom with its mindless discussions and terrible shorthand with typos, which probably is something you'd be accustomed to should you visit any chatroom anyway. Also, Hollywood still couldn't get away from designing some really snazzy login menus and user interfaces that end users in the real world will probably drool over, or laugh at its cumbersomeness.
What really plummeted the movie to B-grade movie territory is the ending. No worries, no spoilers here, but really, it ended with plenty of bravado and the cheese was just too thick to swallow. Seriously, watching Diane Lane did whatever she did, sent my eyeballs rolling upwards sky high. Promising premise which didn't allow for its plot to keep pace.