dir: Gregory Hoblit
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Oh, it’s SO unnecessary.

Director Greg Hoblit makes thrillers, mostly, and oh are they formulaic. So formulaic that watching them, in fact, is quite pointless. The only time he managed to have a twist worth arching an eyebrow over in one of his films, it was thanks to Ed Norton. Nothing else, no matter what actors he uses, ever transcends the level of ‘hackwork’ or general hackery on the scale of directorial ability.

Why so harsh, you might think? Did he fuck my girlfriend, knife my best mate in the nuts, or run over my dog? Knife my girlfriend, run over my best mate, fuck my dog? Knife my dog whilst fucking my girlfriend and running over my best friend? After all, aren't directors supposed to be multitaskers, or at least have enough of an entourage of assistants to be able to do everything simultaneously?

Nothing so terrible. All he represents is the quintessential manner in which Hollywood propagates itself pointlessly, almost unconsciously, through making films that don’t need to be made. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of movies coming out. In fact, considering how many movies clog up the multiplexes and rental shelves, do you reckon they could stop themselves even if they wanted to?

No, they can’t. Oversupply doesn’t matter. America can produce 600 movies a year and still act like enough humans have the time, money and inclination to watch them all. Each and every one of them.

Thus we get Untraceable: a film so piss-poor, ludicrous and pointless that it didn’t need to be made, watched or even reviewed by anyone. I would bet that even the actors in it have already forgotten they were in it. But, you know, I feel a certain burden of responsibility to these artists and their dedication to their art: if they’re going to take the time and expense to devote themselves to such a project for several months, then I’m going to take, out of respect, an equivalent amount of time to rip the shit out of it.

Out of respect, of course, for the noble efforts of these accomplished artists and humanitarians all. After all, all they do is give, without asking anything in return.

Diane Lane, whose career peaked with a role in another Un movie (Unfaithful), plays an unbelievable FBI agent who specialises in internet related crimes. In the opening minutes we see her catch, convict, gut and mount a cyber criminal and his son, all in the space of 30 or so seconds, with the help of Tom Hank’s son, Colin.

Colin, with glasses, plays Griffin, a younger FBI agent etc etc, who we know is highly competent with computers because he has glasses. He utters dialogue worse than Diane Lane’s in order to make her feel better about herself for doing it all for the money.

In the course of her work, she is given a tip about a site where someone is torturing a kitten to death. This makes her sad. The kitten torturer then escalates to torturing humans to death, on websites that allegedly even cyber-geniuses such as Diane Lane, who sounds completely unconvincing at all times, cannot stop.

In a bravura sequence, she uses all sorts of jargon and technobabble that makes no sense to her boss, which we’re supposed to see as a testament to her level of ability and his level of cluelessness. In fact what it represents is the manner in which the movie, cobbled together as it is from a bunch of other crappy thrillers with a cyber flavour, is aimed at people who know nothing of contemporary technology, and who think the internet runs on vacuum tubes and hamster wheels.

In short, the flick must be aimed at people too old to figure out how their mobile phones or DVD players work, who know so little about the net that they’ll never be able to illegally download the movie. That’s the benchmark, it’s got to be.

Because what follows sounded like bullshit even to a relative luddite such as myself. The killer in question sets up and streams footage of people caught in painful situations. The more people who view the streamed footage, the quicker the victim dies. The site even has a counter showing the millions of people logging on simultaneously.

Eh? What? And Lane’s character claims the site, mirrored, is untraceable because it keeps changing its IP address? Whilst it’s streaming this same footage to millions of people simultaneously?

Eh? What? Could you speak up, sonny?

The movie treads that thick line between trying to be current, with it and down with the kids, and catering to old people’s inherent fear of technology at the same time. It purees a melange of general tech ideas into a mess that’s supposed to support, not hinder, a generic thriller where the law pursues a bad guy using technology magically.

And, just to add insult to injury, its attempts to sound all smart and stuff are completely abandoned when it devolves into generic cop thriller clichés, like the pursuer becoming the pursued, and the solutions to finding the killer become beyond comical.

Downright fucking hilarious is how I would describe how they find the killer. Morse fucking code: that’s hilarious, the bee’s knees and the duck’s nuts all rolled into one.

No, I’m not going to explain, even if such an explanation could prevent you from ever bothering to download, hire or even spend good money at the cinema in order to watch this movie.

Further insult comes from the schoolmarmish manner in which the audience is yet again indicted in the crime, in an empty and unconvincing manner. Parallels are made betwixt the manner in which the online audience collaborates in the deaths in the film, with the manner in which people might watch fairly ghoulish crimes online in real life away from the cinema. You know, bringing up Daniel Pearl’s beheading at the hands of jihadis makes me feel bad, but not for the reasons you’re giving, you lousy screenwriters. It makes me feel bad that people cut the poor guy’s head off, not that people around the world watched it and probably still watch it today, with emotions ranging from horror to righteous pleasure. The fact that there are people who might watch the movie online didn’t inspire the fuckers who killed him and recorded it. You’re screwing up demand with supply in this instance.

There are plenty of horrible things on the net, a multitude of crimes and inhuman horrors ranging from the mundane and consensual to levels of criminality and ugliness unprecedented in human history, in terms of massive amounts of people hearing about / seeing it at the same time. But blaming the technology and the receiver for the transmitter’s / perpetrator’s crimes is ridiculous.

It’s an idiotic argument, especially coming from a flick that trades in ghoulish prurient interest, getting a certain proportion of its audience through the door because they’re keen to pay to see gruesome depictions of people being killed.

The only elements of interest for me in terms of watching this flick involved the setting, being Portland, Oregon. I recently saw Paranoid Park, also set in Portland, and it was interesting to me to see some of the same locations used, especially the skate park itself, and a few of the same actors. There must only be about five shooting locations in Portland, and a handful of actors. Portland must be the Toronto of the United States, because when it gets to the stage where the same people appear in any production made locally, you know you’ve got a cottage industry and that the parties must be great.

Only one story element worked for me, seeing as it was just window-dressing: as the various people and kittens are being tortured, viewers leave comments on the website’s forums, variously deriding or lamenting that which they are all watching. The cavalier and callous nature of the idiotic comments people leave there ring true. Those comments could have been lifted from any number of actual forums where people routinely act like fucking idiots and say the most vile things in such an easygoing manner due to the blessed protection garnered via anonymity.

Ah, the net. Font of wisdom and pan-humanistic solidarity, bringing us that much closer to evolving to the next stage of civilisational advancement.

I thought Paranoid Park was a much better film, in case you were wondering. The very end of Untraceable has, inexplicably, Diane Lane thrusting her FBI badge into the field of view of a webcam being watched by something like twenty million people across the United States. It was so fucking strange that I laughed out loud, and I’m not sure why they wanted to end it all that way with a laugh instead of a concerted "hmmm, very deep".

But it does end, and that’s the only blessing.

3 ways in which watching Tom Hank’s son being melted alive should not have been comical but was out of 10

“Maybe he’s blinking Morse code with his eyes.” – Maybe he is, Colin, maybe he is, Untraceable.