Her driver's license. Her credit cards. Her bank accounts. Her identity. DELETED.
For years, we've only had to worry about common criminals, like robbers, murderers and philatelists, but with the start of the creation of Al Gore's Information Superhighway we apparently had to start worrying about cyber-terrorists. If you believe anything that happens in The Net, it turns out that these guys are everywhere and can wipe out your existence with the touch of a button. They're that good. And now that Columbia TriStar has given The Net a special edition DVD release, I just know I'm not going to sleep at night worrying about cyber-terrorism.
Facts of the Case
Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock, Speed, Miss Congeniality) is a software engineer considered to be one of the best in the business, and the time demands placed on her for her skills mean that she doesn't get out much, going so far as to order pizza online. In fact, the only times she's away from her computer are when she's visiting her mother, an Alzheimer's patient. On the night before her "first vacation in six years," a colleague sends Angela a bizarre computer virus that grants unauthorized access to a whole bunch of sensitive computer systems, such as the Mayo Clinic's. He gets in his plane to meet with Angela before she leaves for vacation, but he never arrives thanks to a glitch in a computer system that forces him to crash and explode.
Angela finds out about the tragedy but leaves on her vacation, taking the computer disc with her so she can try to unlock it at her leisure, but another computer glitch bungles up the systems at LAX. Once she arrives in a tropical paradise, she meets Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam, Gosford Park) who sweeps her off her feet. It turns out, however, that Jack only wants one thing from Angela (well, two if you count hot, steamy monkey sex)—the disc that she possesses. Jack can't find the disc (it ends up getting destroyed at some point) so he takes Angela out on a boat to kill her. When Angela reacts like all her previous boyfriends had tried to kill her and escapes, this throws a bit of a wrinkle into Jack's cunning plans.
As revenge, Jack completely erases Angela Bennett's existence by deleting all of her computer records and then setting her up as a false identity complete with a lengthy rap sheet. With her property and identity gone, Angela looks for help from a former boyfriend and therapist Alan (Dennis Miller, Joe Dirt) who oddly enough also happens to be a wiseass. The only problem is Alan's computerized prescription gets replaced with the wrong information and he gets a severe allergic reaction from penicillin. Once in the hospital he's then killed when his medical history is changed yet again.
At this point Angela manages to contact one of her online buddies, who's able to tell her that she's dealing with The Praetorians, a group of super bad cyber-terrorists who do super bad things because, well, just because they can, apparently. Jack shows up again and kills "Cyber Bob" before his meeting with Angela, and this sends Angela on a mission for truth and justice. Angela eventually uncovers a terrible plot centering around control of global software markets and corporate greed, and she's the only one capable of stopping it. I think I've seen this one before.
The Net was released at a time when the Internet technology was just starting to boom and it was obviously aimed at dwelling on the fears and suspicions most people would have of technology to try to create a frightening thriller. The whole idea of having one's identity wiped clean and deleted from a system at the touch of a button is certainly an intimidating one, and as a whole, the idea of the film looks pretty good on paper. The main problem with The Net, however, is that in their attempt to frighten and terrify the audience, the filmmakers simply go too far overboard and overreach with computer technology. I would guess that the writers had a pretty decent layman's knowledge of computer science, which would put them a step ahead of the people behind The Mangler 2, but only marginally. If you were to believe all the things that happen in this film, you would suddenly believe that everything in the weird and strange world of computers can happen instantly at the touch at the whim of single keystrokes. I spent a good amount of time rolling my eyes, which frightened me because I worried my contacts would get stuck behind my eyeballs. (Hey, this happened to a friend once and now she never finishes her sentences.) I realize that this is only a movie and I'm supposed to have a suspension of disbelief at improbable events surrounding the premise of the film, but there was only so much I could take and my tolerance was pounded into the ground within the first twenty minutes of the film. These technological faux pas are couple with the fact that The Praetorians seem to be able to physically get anywhere at any time to carry out their whims. This is demonstrated when Angela returns home from her vacation and her house is suddenly empty and up for sale, never minding the fact that her neighbors claim that they actually saw her leaving. (The script dictates that Angela didn't know any of her neighbors and none of them would have known what she looks like, but an establishing shot at the beginning of the film would have you believe otherwise.) The cyber-terrorists are even able to infiltrate the FBI and impersonate agents! Cyber-terrorists can control radar! Cyber-terrorists can force a homophobic senator to commit suicide! I wouldn't be surprised if cyber-terrorists could also turn invisible, kill a man with a super-secret undetectable deathtouch, read minds, or fire laser beams out of their eyes. They're that good! Fear them!
The whole plot boiled down to a virus running through a Macintosh operating system and being able to interface with a DOS-based mainframe system. If I've learned anything from watching Independence Day, it's that the MacOS can only interface with alien spacecraft and nothing else in existence. [Editor's Note: I work in computers. I can vouch for this, but it's also all Microsoft's fault, just like everything else in the OS industry.] This made a number of the plot elements in The Net completely obsolete. The lack of any technical knowledge by the filmmakers also manages to pretty much destroy The Net's conclusion, but I won't ruin it here.
Another truly laughable problem with The Net was the uncanny ability that Jack possessed to show up at random intervals like some sort of zeitgeist to try and kill Angela. Or was it get the disc? Or was it to take her in alive because she had knowledge? Or was it to kill her again? Nobody, including the audience, is ever able to figure out the real motives behind the film's antagonist since they keep changing from scene to scene. Maybe it's the same old story of boy meets girl, boy tries to kill girl, boy loses girl, girl steals all of boys favorite Ministry CDs (you know, the ones that you really want to listen to when somebody breaks up with you because it's great angry music, only you can't because they're suddenly missing—not that I would know from experience), boy kills girl's ex-boyfriend, and finally boy once again tries to kill girl. Yeah, that sounds about normal. It's hard to have a really menacing antagonist when the antagonist isn't ever really sure what it is he's trying to accomplish. My advice to would be antagonist's everywhere would be to set daily goals for yourself and stick with them no matter what. There's no need to be wishy-washy when you're trying to commit crimes against humanity.
The only other real problem I had with The Net was the presence of Dennis Miller. Please don't get me wrong in thinking that I don't like Miller, because I think he's one of the more intelligently funny people around. It's just that he can't act and Miller's involvement forces me to garnish an automatic five points off the acting score.
The video and audio for The Net are both excellent. Columbia has provided a top-notch anamorphic transfer with no significant (though occasionally slight) edge enhancement and only seldom graininess problems. The audio fully explores all of the sound channels, especially during a chase at an amusement park that ends on a carousel. Special features are plentiful and include two audio commentaries, which unfortunately don't fully address the problems I mentioned above. The first commentary is by director Irwin Winkler (known mostly as a producer of the Rocky films) and producer Rob Cowan. The second commentary features the screenwriters, John Brancato and Michael Ferris. I will point out that there was a great difference in the vision of the original script to what finally made it to the big screen. These differences are also detailed quite prominently in the "The Net From Script to Screen" featurette, where all four people try to make it seem like they were on the same page from day one but you get the feeling they weren't. It certainly demonstrates that the problems with The Net arose from the need of the studio and producer to have a more formulaic film, which sapped any potential for The Net to set itself apart and maybe be just a bit daring. Unfortunately, this feature adds a level of redundancy to the audio commentaries. The other featurette is a standard HBO making-of documentary called "Inside the Net." As usual, this is a piece of advertising fluff. The features are rounded out with the standard theatrical trailers and filmographies. If you like The Net, you aren't going to be disappointed here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'll have to admit here that I'm something of a fan of Sandra Bullock. She's an actress that exhibits a natural beauty and screen presence, and she can capably act on top of all of that. She also manages to bring a great deal of energy to her performances, and The Net allows her to show off her skill to the point that she's almost able to save the film single-handedly. Bullock's Angela Bennett character is one that you almost immediately sympathize with, and the skill in the portrayal allows you to feel the frustration of having your life turned upside down. There are moments in the film when Angela has sunk about as low as she possible can, and Bullock gives a glowing and convincing performance. Since Bullock was coming off of starring roles in the hit movies Demolition Man and Speed, it was obvious she would be able to handle an action-oriented role, and she accomplishes this again in The Net. There aren't too many actresses out there who can give a skillful performance while encrusted in mud, but I can attest that Sandra Bullock can. If anything, maybe Bullock's involvement with The Net teaches us that you should never sign on to star in a movie if you don't have a copy of the final shooting script in your hands.
I can't say The Net was all bad, especially if you're able to shut your brain down for a bit. There were a couple of tense scenes, with one particularly decent chase scene occurring on a carousel. It was suitably disorienting and well-edited, as were other more action-oriented parts of the film. When the pace of The Net was brisk and fast-moving, it actually wasn't too bad to watch. The problems all occurred in the nitty-gritty details of the plot, and if you manage not to sweat the details, you might find yourself getting sucked in to Angela's plight.
Even though the packaging would have you believe that The Net was a "hit thriller" despite the fact it only took in about $50 million at the box office, Columbia TriStar has released a pretty decent DVD. If you enjoyed this movie (despite my obvious contempt for it), then you could do far worse then to pick up this DVD. Seriously.
The Net is guilty of blatant clichés and plot holes for the sake of formulaic storytelling, though I'll find Sandra Bullock not guilty since she's a capable actress who's almost able to save the movie. Columbia TriStar is being set free after providing a worthy special edition.
And here's final proof that there are no cyber-terrorists: I've written an entire review about them and they haven't once tried to haoysr yoyak7r jlhoh.%(#&$(^#%!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Irwin Winkler and Producer Rob Cowan
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