Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
Premise: An FBI agent (Diane Lane) specializing in online crime is tasked with finding a serial killer (Joseph Cross) who puts his victims in deadly torture devices rigged to a website. As more users view the streaming video of the victims, the faster the device kills them.
What Works: Untraceable has noble intentions, trying to get viewers to think about reality entertainment and online communities.
What Doesn’t: Although the film invokes some interesting ideas about contemporary entertainment, Untraceable is not Natural Born Killers. The film is essentially a high tech version of Saw, but without the engaging villain or the interesting plot twists. The film attempts an elaborate plot, but it’s ultimately too elaborate and although the puzzle more or less fits together, it does not reveal anything about the characters or the film’s attempt at social commentary. Diane Lane is not particularly interesting as the FBI agent. It’s partly the fault of the writing, which relies on a number of law enforcement character clichés, such as making her a single parent and allowing the case to violate personal boundaries, but Lane does not help with a by-the-numbers performance. The villain of the film is not very interesting either. Unlike the killers of Se7en or Hostel, the villain’s motive in Untraceable does not play into the intended social commentary and it’s the single greatest element undermining that commentary. The villain and the premise of the film stretch credibility in the elaboration of the plot, and the computer skills required to pull off the crime would require at least a great deal of education, the kind of thing that would red flag him as a suspect. The middle of Untraceable is marred by a lack of tension and the film as a whole lacks coherence. For instance, each time the killer takes a new victim, everyone in the FBI office tunes in on their desk computers to watch, thus making the Feds accomplices in the murder. The film’s fast and loose attention to its own internal logic destroys Untraceable’s mystery and the psychosis of the film.
Bottom Line: Untraceable is a lousy cyber thriller. Although it attempts to enrich its story with some social commentary, it ends up shooting the story in the foot instead of catapulting it beyond a police procedural.
Episode: #177 (February 3, 2008)