While its premise - surfing the Internet can kill you - probably won’t sit well with the likes of CompuServe and America Online, Irwin Winkler’s “The Net” makes for a timely arrival on the summer entertainment superhighway.
Aside from the Big Brother hook, however, the straight-ahead techno-thriller doesn’t exactly blaze any fresh trails plotwise, with its echoes of “The Pelican Brief,” “The Firm” and “The Fugitive” pretty well eliminating any elements of real surprise.
Still, crisp pacing and the presence of the extremely likable Sandra Bullock should help its box office performance.
Bullock is ideally cast as Angela Bennett, a shy, withdrawn computer analyst who spends her days debugging programs while her evenings are restricted to a low-risk, cyberspace social life.
Her routine changes dramatically with the arrival of a computer diskette containing a virus that enables access to a number of classified federal databases.
Before you can say “conspiracy,” Angela finds herself pursued by a ruthless assassin while all traces of her identity have been mysteriously wiped out.
Steeped in high-tech paranoia, Winkler’s film has a nice kinetic energy, effectively portraying the extent to which computers have become an intrinsic part of our lives. The screenplay, however, for which Winkler shares credit with four others, feels like watered-down John Grisham. Aside from the Bullock part, the characters as written are perfunctory and colorless while the action sequences seem arbitrarily programmed rather than emerging organically from the story line.
That leaves a lot up to the actors, who are required to make a strong connection with the viewer. Fortunately, Bullock, hot on the heels of “While You Were Sleeping,” again conveys the right amounts of vulnerability and smarts to win us over.
As her deadly adversary, newcomer Jeremy Northam, following in the footsteps of fellow English heavies Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman, has the cold calculation down but little of the raffish charm.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE NET Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Irwin Winkler, starring Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, Diane Baker, Ken Howard and Ray McKinnon. Running time: 112 minutes Rating: PG-13