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Track Down

After gathering dust for nearly five years, "Track Down" finally emerges as homevid fodder. Pic appears to have found its natural habitat: Although originally intended for theatrical release, fact-based drama about notorious computer hacker Kevin Mitnick looks and sounds like an extended episode of a stylish teleseries.

With:
With: Skeet Ulrich, Russell Wong, Angela Featherstone, Donal Logue, Chris McDonald, Master P, Jeremy Sisto, Tom Berenger, Amanda Peet, Ethan Suplee.

After gathering dust for nearly five years, “Track Down” finally emerges as homevid fodder. Pic appears to have found its natural habitat: Although originally intended for theatrical release, fact-based drama about notorious computer hacker Kevin Mitnick looks and sounds like an extended episode of a stylish teleseries. Familiar faces and up-and-comers in cast should guarantee extended vidstore shelf-life and, down the road, steady cable exposure.

Mitnick (Skeet Ulrich) is depicted as mostly sympathetic but self-deluding idealist in low-voltage thriller. Even as he makes unauthorized withdrawals from the memory banks of corporate and government computers, Mitnick insists he is fighting against “Big Brother” to maintain “freedom of information.”

But federal agents (Tom Berenger, Chris McDonald) see Mitnick as a menace, and enlist computer-security expert Tsutomu Shimomura (Russell Wong) to help pursue the elusive hacker.

Loosely based on “Takedown” (pic’s original title), nonfiction tome penned by real-life Shimomura and John Markoff, “Track Down” focuses primarily on a duel of wits that steadily escalates into a grudge match. Offended by what he perceives as personal slight by Shimomura, Mitnick breaks into security expert’s computer files simply to prove that he can.

Unfortunately, Mitnick inadvertently gains access to an encrypted code for a potent computer virus that Shimomura created as part of advanced security research. Since it’s only a matter of time before Mitnick cracks the encryption, Shimomura and his research team (including rapper-actor Master P) are even more eager than the Feds to capture the fugitive hacker.

Ulrich works against his good looks to effectively play Mitnick as socially maladroit obsessive who nonetheless succeeds as a smooth-talking con man. In one revealing scene, the hacker attracts comely waitress (Amanda Peet), then turns her off with borderline-creepy behavior.

Supporting players — including Donal Logue as Mitnick’s sole confidant — struggle to breathe life into stock characters. Wong evidences screen presence in an under-written role. McDonald uses a familiar actor’s trick to stamp a generic part with a distinguishing quirk: He spends most of his screentime smoking or waving a large cigar.

Director Joe Chappelle (“Phantoms”) relies heavily on nimble editing by Joe Rabig and pounding score by Chris Holmes to ratchet up narrative momentum. Helmer needs all the help he can get in pic where the lead characters type furiously while staring intently at computer screens for extended periods.

“Track Down” merits footnote as final screenwriting credit for the late co-scripter David Newman (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Superman,” “What’s Up, Doc?”).

Track Down

Direct to Video

Production: A Dimension Home Video release of a Dimension Films presentation in association with Millennium Films of a Weston/Thompson production. Produced by Brad Weston, John Thompson. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Andrew Rona, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort. Co-executive producer, Tsutomu Shimomura. Directed by Joe Chappelle. Screenplay, David Newman, Leslie Newman, John Danza, Howard A. Rodman, based on the book "Takedown" by Tsutomu Shimomura and John Markoff.

Crew: Camera (color), Dermott Downs; editor, Joe Rabig; music, Chris Holmes; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; costume designer, Terry Dresbach; sound (Dolby Digital), Buck Robinson, Carl Rudisill. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Nov. 21, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

With: With: Skeet Ulrich, Russell Wong, Angela Featherstone, Donal Logue, Chris McDonald, Master P, Jeremy Sisto, Tom Berenger, Amanda Peet, Ethan Suplee.

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