Sunday 10 April 2022

Movie Review: The Net (1995)

A techno thriller, The Net is filled with bright ideas about the dangers of the online world, but mishandles all of them.

In a prologue, the US Undersecretary of Defense commits suicide after receiving bad personal news.

In Venice, California, Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) is a computer systems analyst and an expert in tracking and eliminating software viruses. Employed by Cathedral Software, she is a loner who works from home, communicating with co-worker Dale online and through courier messages. Her mother (Diane Baker) is institutionalized with dementia.

Dale alerts Angela to a new malicious software program providing unauthorized access to important networks, just before he dies in a mysterious small plane crash. While on vacation in Mexico, Angela meets computer programmer Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam). A whirlwind romance ends in violence with Angela on the run and her identity stolen. She uncovers a massive conspiracy by a software tycoon, and turns to former lover Dr. Alan Champion (Dennis Miller) for help.

Co-writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris deserve credit for conceiving a prescient thriller centred on a power-hungry corporation exploiting growing dependence on the Internet to gain enormous influence. Add in a work-from-home angle,  the destructive reach of malware, and a game Sandra Bullock, and The Net has plenty to go on.

Unfortunately, the good potential is mostly wasted. Both the technology and the thriller elements are developed in the worst possible cliche-filled and logic-challenged directions, fatally undermining enjoyment. The woman-in-danger aspects are stock and prod Angela towards heroic physical feats inconsistent with her character. She is also subjected to a complex but inexplicable identity theft crisis when it appears much easier to just kill her, as the antagonists here demonstrate no hesitation in offing their opponents. 

As for the technology, The Net fades rapidly towards a ridiculous resolution, exemplified by an omniscient software capable of controlling all things but somehow left susceptible to a single keystroke. A MacGuffin in the form of a damaged computer disk becomes less relevant with every passing scene.

Some enjoyment can be found in the corners, mainly courtesy of a feisty Sandra Bullock performance demonstrating spunky resilience. Director Irwin Winkler also designs a couple of tense race-against-the-clock scenes, including Angela triggering the fire alarm to gain network access at her employer's workplace. But despite a decent boot-up, The Net stutters on buggy plotting.

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