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Mired in the net 

‘Untraceable’ is uninspired.

LANE: Phoning in.
  • LANE: Phoning in.

Wouldn't it be great if there were an expiration date on film concepts? That way, you'd get the great, interesting, cool-beans original, but not all the terrible, stupid, let's-make-the-detective-an-orangutan knockoffs. Think of all the bad-movie-ticket money we could have saved, for instance, if movie lovers could have somehow stamped “Silence of the Lambs” as the paragon of the serial killer flick, making the genre off-limits to all the pretenders to the throne.

While that's a fairly radical solution and might even entail some creative cut-and-paste work with the ol' Bill of Rights, it's hard to sit through a flick like “Untraceable” and not think it might be worth it. Tired, slow, and wholly unbelievable, “Untraceable” is the kind of movie that makes me want to become a serial killer, if only to hunt down the coked-up Hollywood 'tards who greenlight crapola like this time and again.

Diane Lane stars as Jennifer Marsh, a beleaguered agent attached to the FBI's Portland, Ore. cyber crimes unit. In between flexing her Patriot Act-enhanced e-muscles (leading to some scenes that border on Gestapo-esque law enforcement tactics) in tracking down Internet fraud and kiddie porn, Marsh happens across a website called www.killwithme.com. Seemingly untraceable, the site soon goes live with streaming video of a man slowly being tortured to death. Specifically, he's being dosed with blood thinner, from a bag keyed to the website's hit counter. The more people who watch, the faster the drug drips into his system, and the faster he dies. From there, it's a race to find the evil genius killer, who keeps kidnapping people and making net viewers his all-too-willing accomplices to murder.

I might have been able to give “Untraceable” a pass as just another “Lambs” wannabe with an Internet-based twist (props to the screenwriters for not having the killer turn out to be Marsh's best friend, ex-husband, 6-year-old daughter or split personality) if it weren't for the film's habit of periodically getting on its high horse and decrying how sick and twisted the world has become, as evidenced by the horrific videos available on the Internet. Note that these earnest, upstanding statements are made in a movie where shrieking victims are fried to a crisp with hundreds of heat lamps, boiled down to the bones in battery acid, and slowly lowered headfirst into the whirling teeth of garden machinery. That, folks, is what anyone outside of Hollywood might call “irony.”

While Lane is good here, showing both her range and why more “seasoned” actresses should be considered for the roles that would normally go to some 20-year-old sweet patootie you've never heard of, you can tell throughout that Lane's mostly phoning this one in. As for the rest of the cast, it's pretty much a train wreck, from Tom Hanks' crotchfruit Colin Hanks as Marsh's jug-eared geek of a partner, to Billy Burke as the film's token Old Skool, Shoeleather-Beats-a-Computerator-Any-Day-Sweetheart Detective. Even the killer turns out to look more like a Mormon missionary than a cold-blooded murderer, and his motive is even more hackneyed than the casting.

In short, what would have probably been a straight-to-DVD stinker without Lane attached makes it to the big screen. Best to wait until it returns to its natural habitat — the video store — before giving this one a try.

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