Judge William Lee now believes in DVD spam.
Know where your family is? Don't look now. They may be on the Web for the whole wide world to see.
The lifespan of new trends is short in today's popular culture. The latest thing becomes mainstream and is then yesterday's news before you're finished downloading the latest version of iTunes. Arriving on DVD about eight years too late to be topical, I See You.com is an unfunny and distasteful comedy about a family that becomes unwitting Internet celebrities as a result of their live webcasts via hidden cameras. Apparently, sex sells and desperate people are willing to humiliate themselves for money. And if that's a revelation for you, I suggest you finish that magazine article about "surfing the 'Net" before you continue reading this review.
Harvey Bellinger (Beau Bridges, My Name is Earl), the patriarch of the family, is a toilet salesman who is stubbornly computer illiterate. His daughter from his first marriage, Audrey (Baelyn Neff, Driftwood), is a bubbly, high school senior with a wild side. The other half of the family is Lydia (Rosanna Arquette, Dead Cool), a former B-movie star and centerfold model, and her son Colby (Mathew Botuchis), a mean and obnoxious 16-year-old who will make you long for the bratty, '80s skateboarder charm of Corey Feldman. Colby also has a female friend, Randi (Shiri Appleby, What Love Is), who's crushing on him but he can't see past her plain looks. And by "plain looks" I obviously mean if it weren't for her piercings, Goth-punk fashion, and atrocious wigs, she would be a total knockout.
It's the summer of 2001 and Harvey has just lost his job while Lydia has lost the family's savings day trading in doomed tech stocks. Meanwhile, there's resentment brewing between the stepsiblings after word is leaked out about their drunken tryst at a rave. Colby takes revenge against Audrey for his smashed laptop by setting up hidden web cams in her bedroom and charging for the peepshow on the Internet. After the money starts rolling in, Colby wires the entire house so subscribers can watch his mother in the bath and his stepfather on the toilet. He uses enough surveillance cameras, each with bright red lights on their fronts, to cover more angles than the Big Brother house but no one notices until their pictures are featured on magazine covers. After Colby's found out, however, the family's anger takes a back seat to their greed. The website is earning $17,000 each week so they decide to continue the charade of a real family unknowingly being broadcast to the world.
The movie's biggest problem is a lack of sympathetic characters. None of the Bellinger clan possess any admirable qualities, least of all Colby who is presented as a creepy sociopath. Harvey never does enough to break his image as a failed breadwinner and his silence over the exploitation of his daughter doesn't make him any more appealing. Audrey garnered some pity from me initially as Colby's victim but the script has her quickly turn into an opportunistic bimbo.
The first part of the movie concerns Colby's exploitation of his family and, as sleazy as that premise is, at least it has some teeth. After the family gets in on the action, I See You.com pretends it's a behind-the-scenes showbiz comedy. Colby and Randi immediately produce show bibles to guide the behavior of their webcast personas. Harvey refers to himself as the "show runner." They even hire voice-over artist Don LaFontaine to record promos. Incredibly, the world is still supposed to believe that the Bellingers are an unscripted slice of real life.
Included among the supplements is a puff piece titled "15 Minutes of Fame" promoting the movie. The filmmakers talk about the originality of the story and how it was inconceivable when they were writing it (I'm guessing circa 2003) that reality TV would dominate the airwaves today. They must not have been paying attention when the themes of both unwitting and willing stars of reality TV were addressed in The Truman Show (1998) and EdTV (1999), the latter was already a remake of a French-Canadian movie. As for teenagers using the Internet for voyeurism, American Pie found a way to handle the subject that was hilarious and not repulsively criminal.
The image quality of this DVD transfer is very good. The picture is clean and sharp. Most scenes are brightly lit so there is low contrast within the frame but the details throughout the sets are nicely rendered. The 5.1 surround sound is less impressive. The forgettable music is energetically directed to the surround channels while the dialogue from the center is quieter and a bit indistinct. The DVD also comes with instructions to download a Windows Media-compatible digital copy of the movie (offer expires September 16, 2009).
I See You.com could have been a comedy about voyeurism, but its creepy protagonist keeps the material from being fun. As a critique of showbiz, the movie has nothing new to say about the Internet or the nature of being a celebrity. As a satire of reality television, it feels so yesterday. I've seen you, and you're guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• 15 Minutes of Fame
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