Directed by Irwin Winkler. Starring Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, Diane Baker. (1995)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 4, 1995
The Net is the first of several new movies that tap into the growing national fear of becoming roadkill on the information highway. No one will be dissuaded from their paranoia by The Net; in fact, the movie targets our worst suspicions. We live in an age in which we've all been subject to the computer glitch that distorts a record, wipes out a history, or temporarily shuts down a switchboard, a bank, or an air traffic control tower. Such victimhood stokes our logical fear of a nefarious network of information tycoons driven to control all international infrastructures. No longer a remote nightmare, this information junta is now conceivable -- maybe even visible. But I guarantee that the takeover, when it comes, will not bear any resemblance to the scenario portrayed in The Net. Conceived as a kind of Alfred Hitchcock meets John Grisham thriller, The Net merely proves what makes those guys such pros and what makes producer-turned-director Irwin Winkler (Guilty by Suspicion, Night and the City) such a heavy-handed knockoff. The Net is sensationalism sans substance -- a hip topic, a hot actress, and a hokey script. Professional computer hacker Angela Bennett (Bullock) is a program debugger. This meek young woman works at home and communicates with her employer and colleagues by computer. We are to believe that Angela never leaves the house; we see her order dinner (a pizza) by modem and socialize via computer chat rooms. For the plot to work at all, it is essential that there not be a soul in the world who can identify her: not a neighbor, not a co-worker, not a relative (Mom conveniently has Alzheimer's), not a friend. Is this really possible, even given the most hermetic computer nerd? (Perhaps this should serve as a reminder to handsomely tip all pizza delivery guys so that they can instantly ID us should the dire need arise.) But, alas, poor Angela cannot find a single soul who can attest to her real identity and the bad guys also make it impossible for her to turn to the police. Angela Bennett is erased from the map even more expeditiously than leftists are “disappeared” in modern Argentina. Why the megalomaniacal bad guys go to the vast trouble of stripping Angela of her life rather than just mowing her down is somewhat mysterious, though supposedly explained by her would-be assassin's unplanned attraction to this cyber-gal equal. Talk about unsafe sex: a one-night stand with an apparent Mr. Right (who is concocted from Angela's “private” computer fantasies) with murder on his mind shows that the cautionary “Mr. Goodbar morality” is still as potent as ever in our brave new computer age. Loss of identity is a central Hitchcock theme and the source for much of his movies' suspense. All the evil-doing is simply the MacGuffin that prompts the identity crisis. The Net reverses that formula; recovering her original identity means returning Angela to her former mousy self, the movie's suspense derives from figuring out how wide the evil net has been cast. But in terms of suspense, this Net is full of holes.