It would be wonderful if this review of the newest cyber-torture-stalker-thriller could begin with the words "Untraceable is unwatchable," but sadly that would be a lie. Our tastes have very simply become too degraded over the years for us not to have become used to it as studios have continued to shove out purposeless dreck like this. Call it a formula inoculation, as the films keep coming, with only the slightest noticeable tweaks to their dependable structure (as necessitated by the latest spasms in popular culture that allow a soupcon of relevancy to creep in), we very simply get used to it, no matter how awful.
And awful it is. In a desperate bid to glom on to the Internet's evergreen supposed hipness, the script (a lifeless accumulation of the expected by a trio of writers who really should know better) puts us inside an FBI cyber-crime unit where flint-eyed but tender-hearted agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane
) tracks down the worst of the online worst. Stirring from her bank of computer monitors only to get coffee or crack wise with fellow agent Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks
), Marsh is your prototypical wounded female cop with a young daughter and fretful mother at home, and a dead husband in her memory. (If her character had been male they'd have given her a bad temper and a drinking problem, but at least the sarcastic partner bit is gender neutral.) She gets put on the kind of case that (literally) only exists in the movies. Some psycho sets up a website called "Kill With Me" whose hook is that the more people view it, the quicker the subject on camera dies by some fiendish means. The first time out, it's a kitten; after that a person, and then another, and then another... Article continues below
In due time, we are given a thick folder of backstory on the killer behind the site and why exactly they are killing these people in such byzantine ways -- the way these Rube Goldberg serial killers slave away in their basements on these contraptions, you'd think nobody had ever told them about handguns -- but one thing is never really made clear: what did the kitten ever do? If the kitten is about the only living creature on screen who makes one feel an ounce of empathy, that fact shouldn't cause undue concern. The problem (one of many) is that everyone gathered here for another painfully mediocre Race Against Time exercise in supposed dramatic tension feels about as real as those life-sized cardboard cutout ads propped up in video stores. For the most part it's not their fault, particularly Hanks and Lane, who appear as though they'd be perfectly willing to do some acting here if anybody bothered to ask.
But given the generic TV-quality direction by Gregory Hoblit
-- once a perfectly fine genre auteur, now straight on the road to hacksville after last year's Fracture and now this -- no acting seems to be required. And with a script whose deepest consideration, after establishing a story in which millions of online gawkers' curiosity explicitly implicates them in murder (a perfectly juicy jumping-off point to score a few blows against modern society in general, the voyeuristic sadism of the Internet in particular, just to name a few topics) is "When did the world go so freaking insane?," you can imagine why nobody seemed to think it was worth the effort.
Untraceable isn't unwatchable. It's a well-worn piece of formula produced with just enough professionalism to make it clear that those who made it should have known better, and yet just didn't believe it was necessary to try any harder.