Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Starring Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross. (2008, R, 100 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 25, 2008
Let's cut to the chase here and now, since this tepid, borderline-offensive cyber-serial-killer thriller takes what feels like ages to rehash both better and worse examples of the current, vapid clamor for so-called "torture porn." Untraceable strives to gussy up its narrative cheat sheet (stolen from the still-warm bodies of Saw, Se7en, and Feardotcom, among others) with an outraged tone, but the blatant, transparent hypocrisy inherent in the story is what's really annoying. The always-reliable Lane is cast as FBI Cyber Crimes Agent Jennifer Marsh, a doting mom and widow working out of Portland, Ore., who with trusty hack-happy partner Griffin Dowd (Hanks) nightly trolls the dingy back alleys of the Internet for the usual collection of predators, frauds, and scam artists. Things take a turn for the obvious when she's tipped off to the existence of a live-streaming site called KillWithMe.com that allows visitors to participate virtually in a real-time execution: The more people log on to the site, the faster the victim dies. Agent Marsh, who should know better, is initially shocked at the exponentially rising hits the site attracts and at one point even goes so far as to drop a none-too-subtle reference to murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl into an ill-conceived harangue on the bloodthirsty, voyeuristic tendencies of your average American. (Her Portland PD buddy muses aloud, "When did the world go insane?") Apart from the fact that mankind, and in particular, America – Google Earth anyone? – has always been fascinated with voyeurism, not to mention the viewpoints of Eros and Thanatos and the intersection thereof, Untraceable renders the audience complicit in the film's violent shenanigans by virtue of watching the gore onscreen. It's a weird, schizophrenic tack for a film about a deranged serial killer to take, and it leaves you feeling as if you'd just been scolded for going to the movies in the first place. God forbid anyone should ever want to watch footage of a Baghdad MASH unit to survey the real – as opposed to reel – hyperviolence of Our Insane World.