a critiQal film review The Net (1995)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: After receiving a disk that provides access to secret government information, computer programmer Angela Bennett (Bullock) finds herself on the run from an unknown enemy dedicated to ruining her life by digital means.

764 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 49s)

While I was working on updating the site to a new design, I noticed that I didn’t have a photo of Sandra Bullock, and, oddly enough, neither did Celebrity 8x10s. Anyway, that got me to thinking about Sandra Bullock, and some of the movies that made her a star that I hadn’t reviewed yet – but which one to choose?

Thanks to NetFlix®, I stumbled across The Net, which seemed a bit appropriate (working on the computer leads me to Sandra’s computer movie), so the decision turned out to be pretty easy. But, would this identity theft film of ’95 now be seen as a precursor of things to come, or is the technology of the film too archaic by today’s standards to keep the film relevant?

Sandra Bullock has made a career out of being the nice girl. Never one to be the villain, she uses her “aw shucks” charm and looks mixed with a great deal of cheery innocence, to win over viewers to her roles. The same is true for cyber-thriller The Net, and she’s at her best when her sheltered girl is wooed in Cancun, Mexico.

Things aren’t as they appear to be, however, and she’s soon on the run, with no identity, few friends, and no idea why she’s been targeted. Unfortunately, she does falter a bit there, as her innocent charm doesn’t fare well while she’s dashing to and fro. Still, The Net does allow her to retain more of her innocence than would be expected, and her charm will keep viewers sticking through to the end.

Her co-star, Jeremy Northam, does nothing to help her out, turning off the charm and reverting to the stereotypical bad guy soon enough. With a silly plot point about actually being attracted to his prey, he doesn’t really ever connect with the viewers even as someone to be booed. Instead, he comes of more like he’s just picking on Sandra, and the viewer’s connection to her turns Northam into a sort of confused bully, rather than the menacing figure he’s trying to portray.

Dennis Miller is a welcome face to the cast, but is oddly typecast as a disbelieving therapist. While he does get a chance to spout a few lines of dialogue, the intensity we’re used to seeing from him – as well as his typical rants – are surprisingly absent, and the viewer wishes he could have done something to provide a bit more comic relief along the way.

The basic idea of the plot – how easy it apparently is to steal someone’s identity – still resonates today, as The Net portends how quickly identity theft could become the problem it is today. Sure, it’s usually not taken to those extremes (more often than not it’s used merely to scam a person out of a credit card or two), but it does give the viewer pause to see how little things have changed in that area since 1995.

That’s especially surprising, consider how far technology has advanced in the meantime. While the viewer scoffs at the phones with the pull-out antenna, the graphically challenged video games and the computer convention filled with boxy computers that look like they are from the late 80’s – not to mention the floppy disks that play such an important role in the film – they quickly realize how long ago 1995 was, in the technological sense.

Unfortunately, while the basic idea behind The Net is a new one for that time, the rest of the film seems to be more paint-by-numbers, right up to it’s inevitable conclusion. There aren’t any surprises the viewer doesn’t see coming from miles away, a fact which may detract from viewer’s continued enjoyment of the film.

Without Sandra’s usual dose of innocent charm, The Net probably wouldn’t have made it to theaters at all, even in 1995. But, with her charm working it’s usual magic on the viewers, the stereotypical plot workings are given a bit more gravity, turning a by-the-numbers thriller – albeit one with a solid starting point – to a by-the-numbers thriller that actually manages to ratchet up the suspense enough for viewers to actually enjoy themselves a bit, even if they can guess where the film is going beforehand.

The Net is a cautionary tale for the computer illiterate…and it’s major issue of identity theft is probably more of a threat today than it was even back when the film was released. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have gotten someone that could have actually challenged Bullock to act out of her comfort zone.

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