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MOVIE REVIEW

'Untraceable' plays cat and mouse with hypocrisy

January 25, 2008|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

If Dick Wolf is interested in doing a "Law & Order: Cyber Crimes," he could do worse than to follow the lead of "Untraceable," a diverting police procedural about an FBI unit tasked with sleuthing the Internet for mouse-wielding bad guys. Diane Lane stars as a Portland, Ore., agent embroiled in a Web hunt for a killer, an investigation that becomes increasingly personal.

While dealing with their usual diet of credit card scams and identity theft, the bureau is tipped off to a lunatic torturing a cat in a live webcast. Suitably appalled, Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and her partner, Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), monitor the site but are unable to track it down due to the perpetrator's elaborate system of obscuring his Internet protocol address, meaning it could be taking place anywhere in the world.

No sooner is the feline dispatched to kitty heaven than the site goes off-line with cryptic promises of "MTC" (more to come). When it returns, the next victim is not an animal but a local man kidnapped from the parking lot of a hockey arena where he was lured with the promise of a game ticket. The convenience of the crime being committed in Portland -- a statistical improbability that the script dutifully acknowledges -- allows the movie to get off the Net and onto the streets occasionally.

Marsh and Dowd race a literal clock as the man appears online hooked up to a lethal IV drip that accelerates with the more hits the website receives. Steadfast Portland P.D. detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) joins the search for what quickly turns out to be a technologically savvy serial killer bent on torturing his victims by diabolical and graphic means.

Director Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear," "Fracture") is no stranger to the thriller form and moves things along at a satisfying pace that milks the squirm factor while gilding over the weaker narrative elements that might give an audience pause to overthink. The screenplay by Robert Fyvolent, Mark R. Brinker and Allison Burnett balances the more clever plot twists with above-average characters.

The widowed Marsh lives in a three-generation home with her mother (Mary Beth Hurt) and daughter (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Lane endows her with the dedication of someone who enjoys her job and the weariness of a mom who works nights to spend more time with her family. Hanks has an easygoing charm that lightens the mood and a credible, sibling-like chemistry with Lane. Burke and Lane carefully skirt the edges of an implied attraction between Marsh and Box.

It's a fairly cynical movie suggesting that 18 million viewers (that's domestic, the killer restricts his site to a U.S. audience) would find their way to watch the murders and there is an incessant theme of chastising not only these looky-loos and but also fans of "gorno" movies as well. Like some other recent films such as "Vacancy," "Untraceable" would seem to want to have it both ways, serving as a scold while offering some of the same unpleasantly gruesome kicks that have made franchises out of "Saw" and "Hostel."

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kevin.crust@latimes.com

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"Untraceable." MPAA rating: R for some prolonged sequences of strong gruesome violence, and language. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In general release.

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