Monday, January 28, 2008


UNTRACEABLE (Gregory Hoblit, 2008)

Careful where you click online. You might be tempted into becoming one of the millions of accomplices to a murder, or so the sluggish thriller UNTRACEABLE would have us believe.

Portland FBI cybercrimes agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) wades through the internet's dirty corners looking for spoofers and phishers preying on the unsuspecting's personal data. Chat room pedophiles are more the domain of her colleague Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks). The latest bit of nasty online entertainment to grace Jennifer's browser is a website featuring a live stream of a kitten being tortured.

As the theory goes, serial killers begin with animals and advance to humans. Sure enough, it isn't long before the site shows a restrained man with superficial cuts on his chest. The more people who visit, the faster an anticoagulant is released into his bloodstream to hasten his bleeding to death. Unable to shut down the site, the agents watch in horror as the hits go up until the victim succumbs.

The killer in UNTRACEABLE continues to employ novel methods for interactive murder, and millions in the surfing public seems more than willing to play along in his deadly game. Adding to Jennifer's distress, the perpetrator knows where she lives and breaches her home computer.

Like Jigsaw in the SAW films, UNTRACEABLE'S boogeyman is a scold who holds up a mirror to society's ills. He arranges death chambers and puts the onus on those who visit his site, automatically making them participants in his twisted enterprise. Obviously such moral grandstanding is laughable. His hands are far from clean. The problem with UNTRACEABLE is that it is guilty of the same hypocritical fingerpointing. It lures with the promise of horrible torture scenes and then reprimands the viewers for wanting to watch. (For what it's worth, the violence is not as graphic as the torture porn films of the past couple years.)

UNTRACEABLE goes into hysterics about what is on the internet, which makes it hard to take seriously no matter how much computer terminology the characters use. If the filmmakers were less concerned about portraying such an outlandish scenario, it might have scored points worth making. Whether it's how much of our lives are available online or the easy access and potential temptation of anything imaginable at our fingertips, there is a case to be made about the negative consequences from the worldwide web's lack of boundaries.

Brushing aside the story's huge logic gaps, UNTRACEABLE is guilty of being uninvolving. It comes up short as a character study and a mystery. Lane is fine as the cybercrimes agent, yet in spite of the character details she's given, there's simply nothing to Jennifer. The killer's identity is revealed fairly early, although his motivation isn't explained until later. Still, none of that information makes an impact. The procedural elements are given their due diligence and presented with as much excitement as a sense of obligation entails.

Boring, hypocritical, and didactic, UNTRACEABLE is an exercise in tut-tutting the audience for being curious about the very stuff the film traffics in. Watching it is punishment enough. I don't need the sermon too.

Grade: C-

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