According to Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger, The Net "2.0" has twice as many holes.
No. Money. No. Identity. No. Way Out.
The Net 2.0 tried its hardest to alienate me. It nearly succeeded. But for some perverse reason, I kinda liked it by the end.
Facts of the Case
Hope Cassidy (Nikki DeLoach, North Shore) takes a lucrative programming job in Istanbul when her slacker boyfriend James (Neil Hopkins, Lost) cools towards her. On the plane ride over, she makes friends with comely flight attendant Roxelana (Sebnem Dönmez, Runaway Mummy), who gives her an evil-eye bracelet and invites her to coffee. Everything looks shiny.
But Istanbul has a rough welcome in store for Hope. Her life will be stripped away, leaving her as fodder for the police, Interpol, and Russian gangs. Hope ends up in a Turkish prison at the hands of Dr. Kavak (Demet Akbag, Magic Carpet Ride), where she tries to clear her name. When Dr. Kavak shows no interest, Hope knows she is hopelessly trapped—in The Net!
When the film opens to a freeze frame of a woman running from police, and she informs us in voiceover that "Sometimes all you have left is your name…Hope," you know immediately that The Net 2.0 will spare no cliché nor avoid any cheap camera gimmick. The next hour and a half confirms that suspicion: The Net 2.0 is a constant assault of cheesy references and camera tricks. It is rare for ten seconds to pass without a whip pan, fadeout, slo-mo, freeze frame, security-cam, pixilation, fast-forward, stop-motion, or flyover shot. With apologies to Nikki DeLoach, it is equally rare for Hope to avoid sounding like a fresh-off-the-boat sorority girl reading for a soap opera. You don't so much watch The Net 2.0 as try to endure it.
As clichés and yawns piled up faster than the dead bodies and the computer-enhanced footage flew past my eyes, I tried to ponder the nature of The Net 2.0, the reason for its existence. (Certainly, the world was not crying out for a sequel to The Net.) The Net 2.0 attempts worldly color by constantly interjecting shots of mosques, flocks of birds, downtrodden peoples, and other socio-artsy stuff. Yet this Turkish flair does little to inform the theme of the movie. Istanbul isn't so much a part of The Net 2.0 as a setting. It could happen anywhere—and without the constant red-herring shots of Byzantine architecture, it could happen more quickly and more clearly.
The Net 2.0 bends over backwards to create a grim labyrinth of paranoia, data dominance, and primal survival. It strips Hope's humanity away like a lamb's fleece. She is supposed to be a grit-filled, iron-cored sapling that surprises everyone with her fierce counterattack. It isn't Nikki DeLoach's fault that Hope fails miserably in this regard. Nikki does a fantastic job of acting like a jetlagged, soul-scarred, brilliant programmer. I've seen her Doppelganger in the database briefing rooms and corporate presentations that have peppered my IT career. But the dialogue she's given and the storm of action that surrounds her strips Hope of all credibility. Did you know that one bullet will blow up an entire car? Did you know that system admins are well versed in evading trained police forces? And apparently, your cell phone and handheld PC are the only tools necessary to crack your way into a billion-dollar bank vault.
I'd like to say I reached meaningful conclusions in my meditations on the nature of The Net 2.0, but I've got nothing. Perhaps I was distracted by the Hackers-like mainframe footage, or caught up in the unconvincing woman-in-prison subthemes. But eventually, something odd happened. I made peace with The Net 2.0's strident shenanigans. Like Neo dodging bullets, I effortlessly ignored the false steps and gaudy distractions, and saw The Net 2.0 for what it is: a big-budget, direct-to-video melodrama. What if Baywatch or Pacific Blue had been handed a few million bucks and tickets to Istanbul? Maybe they too would craft the ultimate, breezy, California girl-on-the-run-from-Turkish-thugs flick.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
After this realization dawned, The Net 2.0 got more interesting. When bit players resurfaced as Interpol agents that have been using Hope as the bait in an international crime syndicate sting operation, I didn't roll my eyes or laugh. See, I was in The Net 2.0's zone. If you can find that zone too, roll with the melodramatic climaxes that pile upon each other as quickly as people shift alliances on Survivor!, The Net 2.0 achieves grace. Hope becomes heroic. The agents move from incompetent chunks of cardboard to cunning masters of deception. You get caught up in the antics, boo the Snidely Whiplashes and Grand Conspirators. DeLoach channels De Niro's Noodles as she flashes her brilliant smile of triumph at the end.
As over-emphatic as it may be, the cinematography in The Net 2.0 is captivating in places. Nighttime flyovers of Istanbul become breathtaking shimmers of light. The ruddy light of the "magic hour" makes temples and faces glow. DeLoach is a good-looking woman, and the High-Def footage shows her off perfectly. In fact, Sony's visual presentation is nearly flawless. The Net 2.0 is saturated with detail and strong colors. I didn't miss the "film" look at all. The digital transfer is as spotless as polished crystal. The crew gives equal treatment to the sound mix. Some of the techno music is assertive, and some of the warbling, soulful Turkish vocals sound like the world music du jour, but the effects and dialogue are involving.
I expected to loathe the commentary by director Charles Winkler and writer Rob Cowan, but they befuddled my loathing. The pair completely sidesteps the issue of whether or not The Net 2.0 is a good movie, instead opting to wow us with stories of international filmmaking hijinks. Their banter is continuous and unforced, with plenty of due praise for DeLoach and their crew. When their commentary wraps, you get the feeling that the pair would love to continue talking about the wearying, but exciting, challenges they faced making The Net 2.0. That's all you can ask for from a commentary track by anyone not named Roger Ebert.
The Net 2.0 may have wanted to be a feature film coming soon to a theater near you, but it isn't. It is a direct-to-video spinoff of a film with moderate name recognition. As such, The Net 2.0 wildly exceeds its cohort. I've seen similar efforts such as Scenes of the Crime that had more promise, but squelched that promise abruptly. The Net 2.0 sets its sights and barrels ahead without remorse. It might be gaudy and poorly paced, but at least it is consistent and has no pretensions. If Winkler can tone down the excessive camerawork and excise clichè from his next script, I could see a The Constant Gardener-like effort in his future.
There is no doubt in the mind of this court that The Net 2.0 is guilty as charged. But it might just be a guilty pleasure.
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