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‘The Net’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 28, 1995

Last summer Sandra Bullock became a star by showing a spunky grace under fire in the action-adventure hit "Speed." Her task in that film was to guide a city bus wired with explosives into safe harbor through a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

This summer Bullock is in the driver's seat of "The Net," a sort of chase movie on the information highway from veteran producer-turned-director Irwin Winkler, and not only is the film a comedown, it's a far less flattering showcase for her talents as well.

The story is standard issue pepped up with a sampling of smart computer talk to give the impression the characters know what they're talking about. Every night lovely, lonely Angela (Bullock) sits in her room in front of her terminal, chatting away on the Internet with her computer playmates. Some of these computer friends are business associates, clients of the software trouble-shooting company for which she works. One of them asks Angela to debug a program of his that accidentally accesses the government's most sensitive top-secret computer banks.

What Angela has no way of knowing, of course, is that the creators of the software—a security program known as Gateway—left this secret electronic door unlocked on purpose so that they can slip into, say, the medical records of a high government official, and create havoc. This makes Angela a high-priority target for Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam), Gateway's suave hit man, who intersects with the unsuspecting computer fox in Mexico and who, after failing in his attempts to secure the program and bump her off, initiates a chase—through the real and the virtual worlds—that continues until the bad guys are caught.

In the process, Angela has her identity stolen, along with her Social Security number and every other trace of her official record, and replaced with that of a fictitious person. This sets the stage for the movie's real transition—the one within Angela. A recluse who orders her meals (pizza, mostly) by fax, Angela had resigned herself to a sort of living death. But being chased by paid corporate assassins can be so centering, so stimulating, and Angela learns so much about her own inner resources that by movie's end, she has blossomed like a flower, ready to embrace life on her own terms.

Obviously, this is pure baloney. Still, if screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris had delivered a plausible thriller with even a few original wrinkles, these shortcomings might not seem so significant. Even worse is that the filmmakers define their heroine in terms that are purely reactionary. Without a man to bounce Angela off of, they don't seem to know what to do with her, and as a result they keep inventing piggish, self-involved male characters that do more to emphasize her poor judgment in men than to reveal her personality.

Bullock—who's obviously that particular type of modern woman who looks her best when imperiled—can't do much with the role of Angela except to seem suitably freaked out when the occasion calls for it. Unlike "Speed," though, "The Net" doesn't allow her to show her feel for high-tension comic timing, and her performance seems drab and tired. That computer screen, it appears, has sucked all the life out of her.

The Net is rated PG-13.

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