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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Untraceable

Untraceable really should have been called Atonement, but that artsy-fartsy movie with the über-skinny Keira Knightly stole the title and so Diane Lane’s latest movie got stuck with the not-quite-accurate title Untraceable instead. Not that it really matters all that much except to computer nerds who are going to nitpick about every little detail in the end and point out that obviously there wouldn’t be the ending you’d expect in a damsel-in-distress movie if the bad guy isn’t eventually traceable, but there’s other, bigger, things to gripe about here. Besides, most of those guys aren’t going to see this movie until it ends up on cable in their basement hideaways in about a year, assuming their moms actually let them have tv down there. This mom, however, was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying the movie in spite of itself.

I’ll admit I went into the theater at the
Essex Cinemas grudgingly because I felt like I’d seen the entire movie about a hundred times already since the preview had run with almost every film I’d seen in the past three months, and what appeared to be the most crucial and climactic scene of the movie was in the trailer. Don’t you just hate that? There are way too many trailers these days that practically show you the entire plot of the film so there is no surprise or excitement to be had by the time the movie finally arrives. For a lot of women, it’s like planning their weddings. They invest so much in the anticipation of the event and then comes the wedding night and it often turns into such an anti-climax (or more likely none at all). That’s sort of what I expected with Untraceable. Fortunately, I was wrong.


While the preview does give away the general premise of the plot, there is so much more to the
story that it doesn’t show. The bare bones (and there are some actual bare bones to be found in a particularly grisly scene) of the story is about FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane; Killshot), who works in the cyber crime unit of the Portland, Oregon, field office. While she is used to uncovering pedophiles and credit card thieves, one day she happens upon a site called Kill With Me, which features a kitten dying in streaming video. She is incensed, but her supervisor, Richard Brooks (Peter Lewis; Down in the Valley), while sympathetic, thinks the FBI has more important things to do than hunt down a kitten killer. Apparently Mr. Brooks is looking for the collective foot of PETA up his hind end. He also doesn’t seem to know what every twelve year old in the country does by now: serial killers almost always start out offing defenseless animals before moving on to humans. Brooks is a total dill-hole.


Anyway, in no time at all, sure enough, Kill With Me, goes live with its first human guinea pig, some guy named Herbert Miller (Tim DeZarn; Live Free or Die Hard), who stumbled upon the killer while trying to score some extra basketball tickets. The ingenious part about the Kill With Me site is that the more people who sign on to watch, the faster the method chosen by the killer will take effect. The murderer is quite creative too, as none of the site’s “presentations” use the same shtick and each becomes more and more gross and gory to observe. Our killer obviously has style.

Of course, the public goes wild with enthusiasm for Kill With Me, and no matter what the FBI does to discourage people from signing on, they are doing so in record numbers, which means that each victim dies faster than the last. In the midst of this, Jennifer is trying to maintain a semblance of a “normal” life for herself and her eight year old daughter Annie (Perla Haney-Jardine; Spiderman 3), who have shared a home with Jennifer’s mother Stella (Mary Beth Hurt; Lady in the Water) since Jennifer’s husband was killed in the line of duty a few years earlier. It isn’t easy, especially when the killer’s intentions seem to turn to Jennifer herself.

What makes the movie so deliciously intense is the lack of
understanding as to who and why these murders are taking place. For the first hour or so, we are left wondering if the killer could be someone we’ve already be introduced to. Could he or she be a colleague of Jennifer’s or her partner on the case sent from the Portland PD, Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke; Fracture)? Then, when we are shown who the twisted individual is behind these ghastly crimes, the question is why?

The murders appear random, but it wouldn’t be any fun if there wasn’t something tying them all together, and that is what finally proves the killer “traceable” after all. While the culprit took great lengths to make sure that Kill With Me was registered in Russia and in Russian, where the FBI has no jurisdiction, and that every time someone tried to track down the IP address it generated a new mirror site to bounce to, making it supposedly untraceable on the web, the common threads each victim held in life couldn’t be erased and that was where Jennifer and Eric were going to have to look to get their answers.

Lane looks worn out as the over-worked Agent Marsh, and I have to hand it to her for being willing to play the role without insisting on looking her most glamorous. Hopefully she looks this way only for the role and it is not the result of being married to actor Josh Brolin. I can imagine that being quite a chore sometimes, especially when you have to visit Dad and the step-monster, Babs Streisand, but I’ll leave it at that. Um, hmm. Colin Hanks (King Kong) is a quirky treat as Jennifer’s office buddy at the FBI and fellow pedophile-wrangler. He brings the sole light moments to an otherwise grim story, made all the darker by its setting in rainy Portland.

I used to live in Portland, so it was nice to see that director Gregory Hoblit (Fracture) made use of the actual locations mentioned in the movie rather than try to pass off other buildings as places like City Hall or the Memorial Coliseum, or even the Broadway Bridge, which plays a key part at one point in the action, but which could easily have been substituted by any number of the ten bridges than cross the Willamette River as it cuts through the middle of downtown Portland.

Untraceable is definitely not for the weak of stomach or for those who think too long and hard about the obvious flaws of the detective work on the case. I mean, really. Does nobody dust for prints anymore? A car and a video camera are out in front of an FBI agent’s house and they don’t do the most obvious test to see if they might find their killer. But my biggest eye-rolling moment is repeated at every killing when the FBI doesn’t simply get the local electric company to shut down the power throughout the city as the murderous game begins. Sure, the killer will probably go ahead and off that victim, but since each of the murderer’s devices requires power, and since the whole point of Kill With Me is to garner an audience via the web, by crippling the pervert’s instruments of death and of getting audience participation, the game is ruined. Without an audience, the killer wouldn’t achieve any thrill of accomplishment by completing the deed, so this would at least stifle the sicko for a while and, hopefully, it would buy the FBI time more to work on finding out who is behind this nefarious scheme. Assuming the killer doesn’t already have a generator at home (and they aren’t common in Portland), it would also give the agents an opportunity to use that as a possible lead by targeting stores that sell generators to see who buys one after the initial blackout. I’m just sayin’ that’s what I would have done if I’d been there. You know, maybe I should have been an FBI agent, but I’d need a cool name like Foxy Loveglove or Tawny Knobpolisher, something that sounds like it came from a James Bond movie. I just wouldn’t want to have to do anything that might cause me to break a nail or get a run in my stockings though. That would definitely be a pre-requisite before signing on.

I do want you to know that ~ bottom line ~ despite the tired old trailer for
Untraceable, the movie turned out to be anything but tired. I was wide awake and as nervous as Clay Aiken in a room full of Playboy bunnies throughout the entire film. It’s definitely something you’ll want to track down at the Essex Cinemas this week. It’s kicking.

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