You mean there are sex-starved loners out there who use the Internet as a dating service? Judge Bill Treadway is shocked—shocked, I tell you.
You're never alone.
Jed Weintrob's On_Line was one of the most polarizing films released in recent years. Critics were divided between those who admired the film and those who despised it.
No matter how you feel about the subject matter, one must look at On_Line like this: Does the film succeed in telling this particular story? Read on to discover the answer to my question.
Facts of the Case
Roommates and pals John Roth (Josh Hamilton, The Bourne Identity) and Moe Curley (Harold Perrineau, Jr., The Matrix Revolutions) have a money-raking side business. What is it, you ask? It's an adult internet site, InterconX, a highly successful adult interactive site in which people can meet on-line and participate in activities that might be best left unsaid.
Things are going well until John finds himself wrapped up in the very thing he co-created. He finds himself drawn to two unique, uninhibited women: Jordan Nash (Vanessa Ferlito, Spider-Man 2) and Angel (Liz Owens), a mysterious stranger seen through a 24/7 webcam.
On_Line has been described by some as a romantic comedy. I assure you that it is far from hilarious, despite some lighthearted gags. Nor is it a thriller, as some have claimed. No, I think the key to understanding Jeb Weintrob's film is that it is a study of lonely people looking for happiness, even if it's through the internet.
Is On_Line a completely successful film? That is a difficult question to answer satisfactorily. To be honest, my initial screening of the film filled me with dislike and hatred. I had allowed the often seamy subject matter to fully cloud all rational thinking. After viewing On_Line a second time, I discovered that Weintrob isn't just showing this material for shock value. Instead, he and cowriter Andrew Osbourne are trying to give us insight into how loneliness can take us in directions we may not initially anticipate. The main problem I have with On_Line is that the intertwining stories feel disconnected from the main concept. However, now that I think about it, that may have been what Weintrob was going for.
My initial hatred for the film was rooted in the fact that I do not personally approve of the sexual activities shown on screen. Once I settled down and put my prejudices aside, I realized that I needed to question what right I have to say what's normal and abnormal. What is unacceptable for me may be perfectly fine for others. Let's face it, as long as it's between two consenting adults, it is for no one else to judge. Weintrob is just showing us one segment in a wide world; he is not to be penalized for being honest. His direction is simple and unobtrusive: He simply points the camera and captures an existence.
Weintrob makes a game attempt to keep things interesting visually through a multi-image technique. Although there has been a mad rush to credit Ang Lee and his Hulk with the concept, many have forgotten that the multi-image technique began with two key '60s films: The Boston Strangler and The Thomas Crown Affair. Both films used multiple images not only to advance the story but also to help the viewer gain key insights into the characters. Unfortunately, Weintrob doesn't use this technique for maximum impact. Instead, the end result feels as if he didn't want to waste one foot of tape that was shot. Then again, the disconnected, cluttered feeling may have been part of the game plan.
The film is extremely well acted, although it may take a second and third viewing to discover that. What seems pedestrian and amateurish at first is actually nuanced and skillful. Josh Hamilton has an everyman quality to his performance that helps sell this material. Vanessa Ferlito has a truthful reality in her scenes as Jordan; both have strong onscreen chemistry that may not be evident upon the first viewing. Harold Perrineau, Jr. is not on screen as much as I would have liked, but he reveals uncharted depths whenever he does appear as Moe. It is a testament to their skills as actors that they completely inhabit these roles.
Wolfe presents On_Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Weintrob shot his film on digital video, which is a whole different ballpark from film. Video doesn't have the richness and saturation the best film formats does. However, the more subdued visuals add to the tone and feel of this film. How is the transfer? It is about as good as one can expect. Don't expect the clarity of film, but even though edge enhancement rears itself in a few scenes, overall Wolfe has done fairly good work.
Most digital video-made films tend to feature monaural sound, but Wolfe provides On_Line with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround stereo mix. Weintrob experiments with multichannel sound, often overlapping dialogue and music to a distracting degree. With the 5.1 sound, the soundtrack isn't the muddle it is on VHS.
There are some extras. We get not one but two commentary tracks, both featuring director Weintrob. He mentions at the start of track one that he wants On_Line to be the first disc to have commentaries that are entertaining, and the tracks are entertaining, but slight. The first track, featuring the cast, while fun to listen to, amounts to little more than self-congratulatory claptrap. The second track, featuring the technical crew, is much more interesting and worthwhile. The sole fault is that several of the participants speak with a very dry tone, making for a slow-going commentary.
Eight deleted scenes are featured in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. These offer the option to listen to commentary from director Weintrob. It's easy to see why the scenes didn't make the final cut, but Weintrob's commentary on them is a considerable improvement from his two feature-length tracks.
One featurette, titled "The Making of On_Line," is anything but. It runs a mere six minutes and reveals absolutely nothing about the production. Avoid this one like the bubonic plague. The second featurette, called "Six-Camera Webcam," reveals lots of details about the technical aspects of the film's production. This one is worth seeing. The film's original theatrical trailer and an interesting photo gallery make this one of the most surprising special editions of a little-seen film in years.
The suggested retail price for On_Line is $24.95. My personal feelings prevent me from recommending the disc for purchase. However, a rental might be a good idea for the curious. If you enjoy the film, then by all means, buy it.
I make no secret of the fact that I personally disapprove of the activities shown in On_Line. However, I must give credit to Weintrob for making a brutally honest film. I see potential in him.
Wolfe is not guilty. It has produced a decent DVD of a little-seen film. The extra content could be better, but it is better to have flawed content than none at all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
• Feature Commentary with Cast
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