Identity Crisis

I've heard this movie described in completely opposite terms - from your typical Hollywood-got-it-wrong mistake to something that makes a fairly good attempt at presenting a technological story in a way that audiences will understand.

They are referring, of course, to the Internet in the title. Angela Bassett - er, Bennett - is a skilled and stereotypically anti-social programmer, preferring chat rooms and pizza to restaurants. In the course of her day to day work she encounters a disk which will turn her life upside down. The disk is so important, and the people behind it so dastardly and capably sinister that they steal Angela's identity and turn her into "Ruth Marx". Apparently this is supposed to be an effective way to retrieve an item of importance. The premise is that all critical information is stored on computer now, and that the advent of a global computer network means that your personal information can be accessed, and potentially altered, from anywhere.

Our evildoer is Jack Devlin, with a group known as the Praetorians, is a smamry, cocksure, and self-obsessed fellow that we are to believe is of the same socially inept ilk as Angela. I don't buy it, and I don't think anyone else is either. But someone writing in the script did, for he keeps saying he and Angela are meant for each other as if someone is supposed to believe it - but the words don't ring true and Angela certainly doesn't react like they mean anything. Either he's a poorly drawn villain or worse, merely a generic one.

The thing about this movie is that it's both and neither of these two murmurrings I heard. The technology is fairly decent at the ten thousand foot level, and I'll take such things as impossible octets in IP addresses as an inside joke. There are problems with some of the basic assumptions of the movie. Not every database toyed with by Devlin has any purpose having a physical connection with the Internet - a police database is dubious, but hospital patient records have no place connected to a public network. The concept of how computer virii work is ludicrous, based on audience-friendly flashy graphics - apparently the public believes something important must be happening if nonsense streams by on the screen faster than it can be read. There's also the standard belief that, by default, any important program or data will never have been backed up and one copy will actually exist anywhere. What's going on here is a mapping of traditional storytelling techniques onto poorly understood technology. Filmmakers are trying to tap into fears about "the system" but just refuse to let go of the story devices they know audiences will relate to. Anti-Trust comes a lot closer, but still exploits your usual chase scene dynamics to build to its conclusion.

What's more, The Net is too enamoured of its tech cleverness to pay attention to basic storytelling. The characters, particularly Devlin, don't quite work. Sandra Bullock brings some nuance to Bennett, but she never seems like a real character. The most interesting character to watch is actually Dennis Miller as Bennett's former therapist and lover, and the closest thing to a true romantic lead in the story merely as being one of the very few vaguely sympathetic characters - and I do like not having the usual pasted-on romantic story - that's about the best decision I can credit here.

Probably the best way to take The Net is the philosophical angle, a springboard to conversation. Are we vulnerable? Is this merely your typical exaggerated storyline, or is there a basis to these fears? I am reminded a lot of the so-called Y2K bug. It's a lot of hubbub about nothing much, but what do I know?

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Review: Grrrrrr.... star3/10 SillyconJester

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