Deliberately designed as the latest thing in the confluence of dot-com underground culture and digital video exploration, Jed Weintrob’s “On_Line” already seems like a relic of a bygone era — and it doesn’t help that its web of characters is especially dislikable.
That the mostly Gotham-based characters created by Weintrob and co-writer Andrew Osborne, addicted to the desultory drug of cybersex, are more or less just the sort of folks you wouldn’t want to stay online with very long makes pic a particular drag, and less of a commentary on the scene than a general bummer.
Made with a distinctly pre-2000 spirit infused with fascination for the Worldwide Web’s novelty, the dark, digitally shot comedy looks and feels like a project that has missed its prime moment, resulting in theatrical and ancillary prospects as unstable as most dot-com businesses.
Brief opening flashback in January 2001 reveals John Roth (Josh Hamilton) pining over his g.f; now, in January 2002, John’s alone, except for Moe Curley (Harold Perrineau), his archly named partner in cybersex site Intercon-X. More than in most recently shot N.Y.-set films, the specific time setting and multiple close-up views of the World Trade Center are particularly jarring yet easily eliminated with judicious trimming. When he isn’t checking out a woman’s Web site showing her every bedroom move 24-7, John opines about his personal problems via his online diary, which has the unfortunate effect of immediately rendering him a poster boy for the self-absorbed, terminally hip Netizen crowd.
Weintrob’s best visual idea is to link John and his various lonely mouse-clickers in split-screen, especially useful since everyone has their own mini-cyber camera. This allows them to see and hear, but not touch. Jordan (Vanessa Ferlito) does her safe-sex act for Intercon-X, and pals around with Al (John Fleck), whose own gay-oriented online sexual performance hinges on playacting. Moe is drawn into a steamy number with artist Moira (Isabel Gillies), who compels him to say that he loves her before they do the nasty. Ed (Eric Millegan), a lonely teen in Ohio, shares his suicidal tendencies with Moira and others on the “Final Exit” Web site, but he finds new life connecting with Al.
John makes the predictable mistake of confusing fantasy and reality by joining in an online sex act with Jordan, and then haplessly tries to have a real date with her in the flesh. Going behind Moira’s back and betraying John, Moe has sex with Jordan in a public bathroom — which John spies and talks about in his diary. The human web of connections quickly unravels as Moira sees John’s diary entry, confronts Moe, who then flies into a tirade against John.
Weintrob seems to want to suggest that the Web can also help friends help friends, as depressed Moira’s overdose triggers a cyber chain-reaction that saves her life. But his people are as substantial as barely glimpsed pixels and the outcome for any of them — particularly Hamilton’s morose John — is of little consequence. Fleck, as always, milks it for every fun drop, and Ferlito clearly enjoys playing a dress-up fantasy gal.
Digital video lensing is, by the latest standards, second-grade, but various abodes for these computer freaks truly convey a New York full of lonely people living in cramped quarters.