A competent but unremarkable crime thriller, "Untraceable" does introduce one fascinating, troubling notion - that Americans are so addicted to their media that they would happily become accessories to murder in order to get their daily fix of electronic thrills.
Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is a Portland resident, single mother and computer specialist for the FBI. She has a gun but hardly ever touches it, since she spends most of her time in front of a monitor chasing cyber criminals. Now and then she picks up the phone and orders a SWAT team to come down hard on some teen hacker who's been buying porn and big-screen TVs with stolen credit card numbers.
In "Untraceable," though, Jennifer matches wits with a much more disturbing computer criminal. Someone has snatched a man off the streets of Portland and rigged him up with a machine that is injecting a fatal cocktail of drugs into his bloodstream. The helpless victim can be viewed via live streaming video on a Web site. The more users who log onto the site to watch, the faster the flow of deadly drugs.
Jennifer is stumped. The Web cast is being routed through overseas servers that change every few seconds, and there's no way to find where the feed is originating. The helpless authorities can only plead with the public to not visit the site.
Good luck with that.
Like Jigsaw in the "Saw" movies, the killer excels at dreaming up Rube Goldberg-ish methods of killing his captives. He cooks one with heat lamps. He dissolves another in a vat of water and acid. How fast they die depends on how many of us are watching.
The interesting part of this premise is why otherwise responsible citizens would abet this fiend. But this being a Hollywood movie, that's the part of the story "Untraceable" ignores. We're here for cheap thrills, not an uncomfortable examination of culpability.
Mostly we watch Jennifer and her co-workers (Colin Hanks as a fellow FBI geek, Billie Burke as a local police detective) as they sleuth out the reasons behind the murders. Eventually they, too, become targets of the mysterious killer.
"Untraceable" works well enough on a pure suspense level. The screenplay by Robert Fyvolent, Mark Brinker and Allison Burnett offers plenty of red herrings as to the identity of the bad guy and the setup alone is enough to churn stomachs. Director Gregory Hoblit specializes in thrillers ("Primal Fear," "Fallen," "Fracture") and knows how to work the material.
Lane is her usual watchable self, although the filmmakers have taken pains to dowdy her up so she doesn't look too glamorous.
Again, good luck with that.
But in the end "Untraceable" is a movie about an interesting idea that it's afraid to face.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun