Untraceable (DVD)

This week's Se7en wannabe is Untraceable which, while not as blatant a copy as WAZ, still owes a considerable nod to David Fincher's way with creative torture. Strangely, while WAZ fell apart by sticking closely to the format, Untraceable falls apart when it diverts from it. The first hour is a more-than-solid thriller, with an impressive moral / satirical centre and some enormously creative murders. The problem is that the climax could have been cut in from any number of similar serial killer thrillers.

Diane Lane, a far better actress than some recent script choices might suggest, is Jennifer Marsh, an FBI agent specialising in cybercrime. She's a keyboard whiz, a great judge of character and criminal tendencies, and always one step ahead of the computer-manipulating geniuses she polices. However, it appears she's met her match in a website called killwithme.com. Streaming live, the psychopath behind the site is killing his victims at a rate determined by the public: the more people log on, the quicker the victim dies. When it's a kitten, well, it's very sad (or funny, depending on how warped or cynical you are) but it's not exactly the FBI's number one priority. When the killer trades up to human victims though, that's a different matter. Particularly as the hint of death makes the hit rate soar, speeding up the murders and reducing the Feds' ability to solve the crimes.

So far, so impressive. The murders are highly original — a drug-assisted bleedout, roasting by heatlamp, etc — and Hoblit gives things a nicely gritty edge that helps you overlook the occasional clunky line. When it falls apart though, there's nowhere to hide and that gritty edge is rapidly eroded by every serial killer cliché you can think of. The moment the spiral heads downward is easy to spot: it's the point where Marsh's sidekick Griffin (Hanks) calls to say he thinks he's found a link between the victims but he can't go into it just yet because he needs a bit of time to chase down some leads, investigate further and, oh yes, get abducted by a psychopathic computer whiz. Yawn.

It's a crying shame to see Hoblit helming this sort of thing. While he's unlikely to ever trouble the Academy (probably no bad thing given their current tastes in acting), he's a more than competent director as he proved with Primal Fear and the underrated Fallen. He, Lane and Hanks deserve better than a film that amounts to little more than a halfway decent episode of The X-Files.

EXTRAS *** An audio commentary with director Greg Hoblitt, producer Hank Koch and production designer Paul Eads, and 4 behind-the-scenes featurettes: Tracking Untraceable; The Personnel Files; The Blueprint of Murder; and The Anatomy of Murder.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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