The Net

Beware rogue ocean rocks
Irwin Winkler
Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller
The Setup: 
Computer expert gets involved in Internet-based espionage!

A friend who with a long-time, intimate knowledge of this site nevertheless asked me “WHY would you want to watch THAT?” upon hearing that this was next in my DVD player. And well, this turned out to be an extremely pertinent question.

This was Sandra Bullock’s big starring role after Speed, and when it was out I was pretty high on Sandra and rushed off to see it in the theater. What followed was the first of many experiences of being very disappointed [betrayed, used] by a Sandra Bullock movie. I think I’m not to the only victim in this actresses’ stinker-filled path.

First we have vaguely ominous political undertones as we see this politician upset about some news—and soon hear that he is dead, and was revealed to have HIV. He was apparently a big homophobe in his legislation, so this is a shocker. I think you’re already seeing how timely and relevant this motion picture is. Then we join Sandra as Angela Bennett [that’s name, get used to hearing it], some computer security expert who just happens to be thin, gorgeous, have a hot trim body and salon-perfect hair. The realism draws you in. She’s been given some virus to study by some client, and she finds it and deletes in four seconds, cleaning the software in two more seconds. She really is a wizard! The client asks her to dinner [all men want Angela!], but she demurs, orders a pizza online, and spends the evening alone with some Annie Lennox. She IM’s with some computer whiz friends [you see, there’s a whole COMMUNITY!], who proclaim her to be “one of us.” The movie attempts to make the IM’ing process of more interest to us moviegoers by having the computer vocalize the IM’s, and Angela recite her entries aloud. Nevertheless, I think the point we’re supposed to understand is that Angela is hot and sexy, but would rather interact with less threatening virtual friends. Our “character” now established, we can toss it all out and have the rest of the movie have nothing to do with it.

Oh but a tiny bit more character stuff: Angela has a mom with Alzheimer’s, and we witness Angela’s pain as her mother doesn’t remember who she is. The Pain! Okay, can we move on?

Then some other client sends Angela a disc with a strange virus that has a little glyph that you click and opens another website and all of a sudden you’re looking at sensitive state department stuff. Angela also orders airplane tickets online—in about two seconds. This is part of the movie’s desperate ploy to goose the audience with identity theft terror, that “our whole lives are online!” The serious problem this faces is that, circa 1995, very few people did much of anything online, and identity theft was still an occasional Newsweek article, but not an issue with much public traction. Let us also mention this film’s ludicrously amateur-looking websites. I was on the Internet in ’95, and I don’t think any major airline’s website looked like Bob and Sue’s Xena Fan Page. Anyway, the client who sent her the disc is killed! Sandra’s at the airport when a computer glitch knocks out the departures, sending the air system into chaos! Then it’s fixed, and she goes to Mexico.

This is Angela’s first vacation in six years—she is hot but asocial, etc.—and she pops into a bikini and takes to the beach with her laptop. She has also, for some reason, brought along the disc with the virus. On vacation to Mexico. There she meets studly hunk Jack Devlin, portrayed by Jeremy Northam. He thought he was the only one more interested in computers than being on a beach. Angela totally knows! She is in the perfect setting yet can only think “Where can I hook up my modem?” Why, they’re meant for each other!

So Angela and Jack share drinks and laughs, and we have shots that tell us “she’s really falling for him!” They walk on the beach. Angela’s purse gets stolen! Jack runs after the thief! But it turns out—ready yourself, please—Jack PAID the Mexican to steal it! And rather than pay the guy the $50 it would have taken, Jack shoots him! Jack is a BAD MAN. Though of course you knew that, because his last name is “Devlin,” which sounds, you know, kind of “Devil”-ish. It ain’t Shakespeare, folks.

But poor, innocent Angela does not know this. She goes out on Jack’s humongous yacht thing. They have to go further and further out in order to use the radio—then never use it once they get there, they decide to make sensuous love. Angela is SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY. So he goes down to do something, and Angela noticed the big-ass gun with the big-ass silencer on it in his jacket pocket. Why, was he planning on doing some fishing? He confides that no, he’s actually planning on blowing her useless head off, but she burns him with the one and only cigarette we ever see her smoke in the movie [she smokes as SELF-DEFENSE!] and gets away into the inflatable raft. She pilots away—straight into one of those rogue mid-ocean rocks that are the sailor’s constant menace. Why can’t the coast guard clamp down on these wandering mineral menaces?

So Angela’s unconscious for three days, wakes in a Mexican hospital, walks out immediately. The disc has been burned. Here’s where Angela’s real pursuit and problems begin, and yet this is the point at which the movie somehow loses all interest and grows completely inert. She gets back to her hotel and find that her hotel reservation has been erased! She signs a paper to get a temporary visa with another name, and somehow gets back into the United States despite having no money and no ticket, as far as I can tell. When she gets back, she finds her car—gone! Her house—for sale! Her identity—erased! Her furniture—rearranged! Jack, that old rascal, is right outside while the police are running a computer check [computers again! Evil computers!] and uploads a whole criminal history onto her, including prostitution and narcotics. At this point you can start amusing yourself picturing Sandra Bullock as a cracked-out whore… who cleaned herself up into the chipper little number we all know today.

So she calls her friend Alan, played by Dennis Miller during the short time during which he was trying to take acting roles, and he comes to take her to a motel room. He is, of course, in love with her. He doesn’t believe a word of her story [“I know SOMETHING happened”], and I thought, how would you react if you told a good friend that someone tried to kill you, and they essentially told you that you were hallucinating? Rather alienating, no? So Angela uses Alan’s laptop to hack into… something or other, which tells her something, I guess. Her internet suddenly goes dead, so it clearly seems that he connection has been traced, and the agents will be at her door any moment—oh well, why not take a leisurely shower? This, by the way, is the way computer experts look while on the run from some deadly covert ops:

So Alan gets his pills switched, goes into the hospital, where he soon gets his medical records hacked [damn you, computers!], and is soon dead. Sandra ends up at this fair where there’s a chase on a carousel that I think is supposed to be an homage to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. But you know what? Hitchcock doesn’t WANT an homage from your shitty computer-based Sandra Bullock movie, okay? So stuff it.

The fair is also notable for a guy in a pink bunny suit who, you will notice, REALLY wants to play with Jack. In here, by the way, Angela is thrown in prison, which is around the time you’ve had enough of hearing her shriek “I’m Angela Bennett!” over and over. Anyway, she finally hitchhikes her way to San Francisco, where she infiltrates the headquarters of the evil software company, gets some disc copied or whatnot [it’s all impossible to discern what is happening], then high-tails it to this software convention. First there is an AIDS-right march… and that’s when you start to think that possibly some sort of STATEMENT is being attempted, with all the stuff about the senator who was homophobic but died of AIDS [but turned out not to have it] and this vigil… but none of it makes the slightest sense. And how does a thriller about Internet security pertain to this in any way? I don’t get it.

Are you still reading? Why? It’s sooo boring. Angela makes it to this computer convention where she hops on an available interface and uploads the virus to the FBI. Jack then activates this virus that ruins their own program, or something. You’ll be intrigued to know that according to this movie, a virus will cause the graphics on your screen to pixillate and degrade. Not to mention all the shooshy noises everything on the computer makes. After a short chase through some back hallways, Angela boffs Jack on the head with a fire extinguisher, and that’s it, case closed! You’ll notice that the movie affords very little sense of triumph to the fact that our heroine who has been tormented this entire movie just brought down this entire huge corporation, and the whole thing just finally ends.

It’s truly just dreadful. I don’t have any problem with the fact that it’s inane, I mean, what isn’t? But it’s just so torpid and dull. It never grips you in any way and then it just churns on, and on, and on [for an unforgivable two hours] and finally, almost arbitrarily ends. Everyone in it is awful. The issues don’t stick—in fact, you can barely follow what’s going on. I’m still quite unclear on what the evil corporation was up to, and what that had to do with the stock market crash [I didn’t mention it] or the airport computer crash, or, least of all, the dead senator. So you just sit there in a daze watching it go by and waiting for it to end.

There’s not even that much fun to be had from looking at computer fictions the filmmakers try to float that we all know or bullshit now. Sure, we see the crappy websites and the idea that you can order airline tickets online in three seconds, but they’re all ensconced in so much muck it’s never amusing. If you want that, you need to watch Disclosure or Hackers. In fact, if you have any desire to watch this movie whatsoever, watch Hackers instead. It covers much of the same ground and is a billion times more fun, and has a young Angelina Jolie. So do not watch this movie under any circumstances. And Sandra… leave this kind of shit to Ashley Judd.

Should you watch it: 

For no reason.