Net, The (1995)
Release Date: July 28th, 1995 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Irwin Winkler Actors: Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, Diane Baker, Wendy Gazelle, Ray McKinnon, Ken Howard
he problem with “The Net,” inherent in all films centered on current technological science, is that technology advances too rapidly for this medium and subject matter to stay relevant. Within a few years, the imagery and concepts become horribly dated, diluting the potency and the potential for repeat viewing. “The Net” is supposed to deliver a scary, prophetic, slightly futuristic catastrophe warning about the invasive powers of the internet, phone tracking, identity theft, and Big Brother government surveillance. But the opening scene shows officials using cell phones of monstrous proportions (fashionable barely beyond the film’s theatrical release); and following that are shots of incredibly outmoded, clunky computers and pixilated operating systems. Fortunately, the themes are still relevant and the suspense is handled like a typical ‘90s, guilty-pleasure actioner.
Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) is a hermitlike computer maintenance technician (or analyst) and virus removal specialist for Cathedral Software in San Francisco. Her hacker interests keep her in touch with associate Dale (Ray McKinnon), who stumbles upon a powerful system glitch gateway on the internet – just before he mysteriously dies in a plane crash. The tragedy doesn’t stop Angela from going on her scheduled vacation in Mexico, where she meets and falls for the smooth-talking Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam). When she discovers that Jack carries a gun – with a silencer – she makes a hasty run from the boat where they’ve been dining. In her flight, she crashes into a rock and is knocked out.
Three days later, she awakens in a hospital. Her memory is fine, but when she returns to her hotel, she discovers that she’s been checked out of her room. She has no money or identification but is temporarily issued a visa under the name Ruth Marx, which she uses to return to the United States. But further horrors await: her credit cards have been canceled, her car is gone, and her home is for sale.
Angela’s life has essentially been erased – and she’s even more distraught at the fact that someone else has assumed her identity. When Devlin alters her records to reflect arrest warrants for drug possession, prostitution, and probation violations, she’s forced to go on the run. The only person she can turn to for help is her former psychiatrist, Dr. Alan Champion (Dennis Miller), who sets her up in a hotel. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, during Angela’s struggle to regain her old life, she stumbles upon the hacker network of the “Praetorians,” who have cryptic ties to the suicide of the Undersecretary of Defense, as well as recent cyberterrorist attacks on Wall Street.
“Our whole lives are on the internet!” “The Net” fuses realistic, gripping notions of identity theft, invasions of privacy, and internet tracking with a dramatic conspiracy theory and action/adventure sensibilities. No one is who they seem – imposters abound, everyone appears suspicious, and paranoia is pervasive. Angela gains allies and then loses them – only the abundance of enemies stays consistent. Hunts and chases styled after “The Fugitive” (1993) are reasonably effective, adorned with car stunts and smartly choreographed evasive maneuvering. But the role of Devlin, as a smarmy, arrogant, overconfident assassin, isn’t genuinely threatening and dulls the intensity and terrors of the more important, computerized villain. Thankfully, Sandra Bullock makes for a sympathetic, spunky protagonist, who is fun to watch even if the plot takes a turn toward the realm of overly predictable thrillers and the initially interesting themes are abandoned for cheap theatrics (such as gunfire, hand-to-hand combat, and Bullock’s continually exposed midriff).
– Mike Massie