Net, The (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Welcome to cyberspace, the newest locale for the action-adventure film. Borrowing heavily from Alfred Hitchcock and John Grisham, director Irwin Winkler reduces a potentially-fascinating premise to the spearhead of a routine thriller. The Net starts off strong but finishes weak, and if not for the presence of actress Sandra Bullock, who graces nearly every scene, this movie might have been a snoozer.

For the third picture in a row (the other two being Speed and While You Were Sleeping), Bullock's simple, understated portrayal is noteworthy. She draws the audience's sympathy like a magnet. No matter how silly the plot contrivances get, we still have a vested interest in the fate of the main character. This isn't just good acting -- it's an example of something far more rare and potent: genuine screen presence and appeal.

Bullock's Angela Bennett is an introverted computer analyst. She sits at her keyboard, doing all her work by phone and modem. When she needs to eat, she uses the Internet to order a pizza. The only time Angela gets out of the house is when she goes on a vacation to Mexico, and even then, she has her laptop with her. However, right before heading south of the border, Angela comes into possession of a disk containing information vital to the successful criminal activity of a group of cyber-bad guys, the Praetorians. They know she has it, and will stop at nothing to get it back.

While relaxing on a Mexican beach, Angela meets the dashing Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam), a fellow hacker with the style and charisma of James Bond. Unfortunately for Angela, he also has a gun, which he plans to use on her. She escapes his clutches, but by the time she gets back to the United States, she discovers that the Praetorians have used their computer know-how to change her identity. Suddenly, her name is Ruth Marx and she's wanted by the police. Her mother (Diane Baker), afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, can't confirm who she is. Only her ex-lover (Dennis Miller) recognizes her, and he thinks she's having a nervous breakdown. In the meantime, someone else claiming to be Angela Bennett (Wendy Gazelle) has taken over the real Angela's job and life.

The first hour of The Net is engaging, but the movie runs into trouble slightly past the midpoint. The kernel of originality pops, and we're subjected to a number of run-of-the-mill chases. For the last forty-five minutes, it seems that Angela is always fleeing from someone with a gun. As the quotient of traditional thriller cliches to innovative elements grows, The Net becomes progressively more mundane, and the final resolution is too facile to be satisfying.

The Net can be seen as a cautionary tale to those who believe that complete reliance upon computers is a good thing. Twenty years ago, this script would have been science fiction; today, significant portions are grounded in reality. No computer security system is foolproof, and there is great power available to those who know how to tamper. In The Net, Big Brother isn't only watching; he's taking action as well. It's too bad the movie gradually loses its awareness of this ominous danger. I guess car chases are easier to film.

In the final analysis, however, Sandra Bullock is the trump card, and she keeps The Net interesting. While this film lacks the impact of a truly gripping thriller, it gives us a protagonist to root for and stick with, no matter how familiar certain aspects of the plot are. Fascination with the Internet may be the motivation for entering a theater showing this movie, but Bullock is the reason to stay to the end.

Net, The (United States, 1995)

Director: Irwin Winkler
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Dennis Miller, Jeremy Northam, Diane Baker, Wendy Gazelle
Screenplay: John Brancato and Michael Ferris
Cinematography: Jack N. Green
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 1995-07-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1