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Dustin Putman

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Untraceable  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross, Perla Haney-Jardine, Mary Beth Hurt, Peter Lewis, Tyrone Giordano, Tim De Zarn, Christopher Cousins, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
2008 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for grisly violence and torture, and some language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 23, 2008.
In one corner, "Untraceable" wants to be a gruesome and violent horror movie involving torture scenarios one would be more at home seeing in the "Saw" franchise. In the other corner, the film wishes to be classier and more psychological, an investigative procedural reminiscent of "The Silence of the Lambs" or "Seven." Judged in halves or as a whole, director Gregory Hoblit (2007's "Fracture") and screenwriters Allison Burnett (2007's "Feast of Love"), Robert Fyvolent and Mark R. Brinker are not inventive enough with the material or their storytelling approach for any of it to feel fresh. We've seen this all before.

Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is a widowed single mother whose job working for the FBI's Cybercrime Unit often takes her away from 8-year-old daughter Annie (Perla Haney-Jardine). When she and coworker Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) are tipped off to website killwithme.com, they are disgusted to find live streaming feed of a kitten being slowly tortured. Soon the unknown killer turns to human victims, their deaths approaching at a rate dependent on the number of Internet viewers the site receives. As Jennifer, Griffin and Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) race against time to track down the identity and whereabouts of the psychopath, they discover that he has hacked into their electronic equipment and any one of them could be next on his hit list.

"Untraceable" is a run-of-the-mill thriller that also plays as a cautionary tale about the power and seduction of a cyber-fueled twenty-first century. While director Gregory Hoblit smartly does not preach on the subject, the timely comment he makes is still very much valid. Even so, the plot is derivative—2002's underrated and atmospheric "feardotcom" held a similar premise and is already nearly six years old—and the fact that the movie abruptly ends after the central story thread is solved, in the process tossing away the character arc of Jennifer that has been set up, exposes the proceedings to have been empty and underhanded.

Diane Lane (2006's "Hollywoodland") is serious-faced and emotionally available as Jennifer Marsh, a woman whose workaholic ways cut into her quality time with precocious daughter Annie. Still, this is a commonplace role that isn't adequately developed and should have been played by someone of lesser esteem than Lane. She's better than this. As sympathetic cohorts Griffin and Eric, Colin Hanks (2005's "King Kong") is affable and Billy Burke (2004's "Ladder 49") hardly registers. Joseph Cross (2006's "Running with Scissors"), though, is perfectly creepy as the mentally ill young man behind the murders, Owen Reilly. Cross isn't physically imposing, but he doesn't need to be to believe that he is capable of the crimes he's committing.

"Untraceable" doesn't work as a whodunit because the identity of the villain is exposed early on. As a mystery, the motive is one that is impossible to guess since the crucial information isn't handed to the viewer before Jennifer figures it out herself and delivers the evidence in a monologue. And as a horror picture, it is grisly but not scary. The predictable climax, wherein Jennifer is forced by the screenplay to do a lot of dimwitted things in order to be placed in harm's way, is good for a few passingly tense moments, but that's about it. Tech credits are fine—the cinematography by Anastas Michos (2007's "Perfect Stranger") is slick, taking moody advantage of the Portland, Oregon locale—and the pacing is rapid enough for the film to not wear out its welcome. Nevertheless, "Untraceable" lacks the substance to be anything more than forgettable.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman