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‘The Net’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 28, 1995

RIGHT AWAY it's clear "The Net" is over-wired for modernity, as Sandra Bullock, a computer "beta" tester par excellence, orders pizza by modem and exchanges computer chitchat with network chatterers such as "Cyberbob" and "Iceman."

It's also clear that Bullock needs a vacation. An overworked freelancer who spends her life finding bugs and viruses in computer systems, she's a PC hermit, lost in a netherworld of mouses, phone lines and very few escape buttons. She hasn't had a romantic relationship in six years. "What do you want in a man?" asks one Internetter. "Captain America meets Albert Schweitzer," she messages back. (Quick test: If you find this "revealing" comment to be adorable and poignant, get in line for this movie. If you consider the line to be the work of insipid, hack writing, come sit by me.)

On the eve of much-needed R&R in Mexico, a friend (Ray McKinnon) sends Bullock a diskette full of sensitive data. Seems this new software program provides unauthorized access to a lot of high-up places. This thing's so hot, her friend tells her, he's flying down in his small plane to talk to her about it.

No prizes for guessing that said pal becomes virtual-reality chow, when his plane crashes into an industrial park, thanks to a suspiciously malfunctioning flight computer. Unaware of her buddy's demise, Bullock goes to the beach, determined to have some downtime. When she meets impossibly dashing British businessman Jeremy Northam, a man with impressive hardware and a big powerboat, Bullock figures she has linked back into IRL—that's PC geekspeak for In Real Life.

"The Net," written by a five-man banality of scriptwriters, starts off with a certain watchable zippiness before lapsing into a narrative shutdown. A dumbed-down amalgam of "The Pelican Brief" (if dumber than that is possible) and the paranoia thrillers of the 1970s (such as "The Parallax View" and "Three Days of the Condor"), the movie's about Sandra versus Them.

Bullock (playing a sort of bargain-basement Julia Roberts) discovers soon enough that a very powerful someone is prepared to kill for that disk, literally or virtually. While people try to murder her, all traces of her official existence are altered. With a few taps of the keyboard, someone turns her into a wanted criminal. This is also the kind of movie in which Bullock is unable to find anyone in America who will corroborate her existence. Even her mother has Alzheimer's. Understandably, Bullock, whose only ally is bearded, burly Dennis Miller (her ex-shrink and the last one to beta-test her romantic software), spends most of the movie running away. You should too.

After dabbling superficially in a 1990s Big Brother theme—the dangers of a society in which everyone's vital statistics are accessible and alterable—"The Net" goes for a barrage of recycled suspense tricks. Director Irwin Winkler, who wouldn't know suspense if it took his breath away, employs every thriller trick chucked out of the book. There's an amusement park scene (ripped off incompetently from "Strangers on a Train" and 250 bad imitations since), in which Bullock has to evade an assailant on a carousel. Every time Bullock turns on the television there's a plot-convenient piece of news to help the story along. And when she needs to escape from a group of bad guys, she chances upon a convenient pile of fireman's clothing. (And just where is the naked fireman, you wonder?)

Unfortunately, in movie theaters, as of now, there are no DELETE buttons.

THE NET (PG-13) — Contains violence and profanity.

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