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Untraceable

Unfolding like a better-than-average episode of a first-rate TV police procedural, "Untraceable" is a satisfying slice of solidly crafted meat-and-potatoes filmmaking.

With:
Jennifer Marsh - Diane Lane Det. Eric Box - Billy Burke Griffin Dowd - Colin Hanks Owen Riley - Joseph Cross Stella Marsh - Mary Beth Hurt Richard Brooks - Peter Lewis Tim Wilks - Tyrone Giordano Annie Haskins - Perla Haney-Jardine Herbert Miller - Tim De Zarn

Unfolding like a better-than-average episode of a first-rate TV police procedural, “Untraceable” is a satisfying slice of solidly crafted meat-and-potatoes filmmaking. Diane Lane heads a cast of thoroughgoing professionals who breathe a fair degree of fresh life into stock characters, and the formulaic plot is enlivened with bracingly acerbic observations about Internet-enabled voyeurism. Aggressive marketing — and a fortuitous lack of similar product in the marketplace — may enable this latest thriller from helmer Gregory Hoblit ( “Fracture,””Primal Fear”) to draw genre fans to megaplexes before pic begins a long life on vidstore shelves and cable network playlists.

Working from a script credited to Robert Fyvolent, Mark R. Brinker and Allison Burnett, Hoblit (whose early experience as a director on “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue” serves him well here) focuses on the crime-busting activities of an FBI cybercrimes unit in the bureau’s Portland, Ore., field office. Usually, special agents Jennifer Marsh (Lane), a widowed single mother, and Griffith Dowd (Colin Hanks), her younger, nerdier partner, set their sights on sexual predators and credit-card scammers. But the stakes are raised when they discover someone on the Web has developed an attention-grabbing killer app.

The anonymous psycho behind killwithme.com starts out small, trapping a kitten and promising to kill the cat once his “untraceable” site gets a sufficient number of hits. When the maniac Webmaster makes good on his promise, Marsh assumes it’s only a matter of time before human victims are placed at risk in live downstreaming videos. And sure enough, the psycho lives down to her worst expectations, rigging torture devices that grow increasing painful, and eventually lethal, as millions of voyeurs worldwide click on to watch the real-time action.

Alert auds will note just how rigorously Hoblit and his scripters adhere to the law of Chekhov’s gun: If you introduce a firearm in the first act, you must use it in the third. While watching a victim writhing in agony on killwithme.com, someone notes that it would be great if said victim could blink Morse code directions to his whereabouts — suffice it to say that blinking then figures into the plot in a way of which Chekhov would approve.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers shoot themselves in the foot and leave a gaping hole in their narrative by not revealing the ultimate fates of two key characters during their otherwise effective wrap-up.

Given the serial killer’s ingeniously grisly means of dispatching his captives — acid baths, megawatt sun-lamps, etc. — and the prevailing atmosphere of impending doom in a rainy Pacific Northwest setting, “Untraceable” cannot help but invite comparisons to “Seven.” New pic is hardly in the same league as David Fincher’s influential thriller, but it does keep the aud consistently discomforted — in all the right ways — while sustaining interest and maintaining suspense.

Lane strikes the perfect balance of resourcefulness and sensitivity in a quietly forceful performance that efficiently propels the action. Billy Burke lends strong support as a Portland cop who aids in the investigation — wisely, the filmmakers avoid the obvious while developing his relationship with Marsh — while Joseph Cross is both oddly compelling and formidably creepy as the Webmaster from hell. Other standouts in the supporting cast include Mary Beth Hurt as Marsh’s mom, Perla Haney-Jardine as Marsh’s young daughter, and Hanks as the FBI agent who goes looking for love in all the wrong places.

Credit lenser Anastas Michos for making Portland look and feel like a moody, gloomy place where the worst things can happen at any moment. Other tech credits are pro.

Untraceable

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment presentation of a Lakeshore Entertainment production in association with Cohen/Pearl Prods. Produced by Steven Pearl, Andy Cohen, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Hawk Koch. Executive producers, Richard Wright, Eric Reid, James McQuaide, Harley Tannenaum. Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Screenplay, Robert Fyvolent, Mark R. Brinker, Allison Burnett, from a story by Fyvolent, Brinker.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Anastas Michos; editors, David Rosenbloom, Gregory Plotkin; music, Christopher Young; production designer, Paul Eads; art director, Michael Mayer; set decorator, Cindy Carr; costume designer, Elisabetta Beraldo; sound (Dolby Digital), Steven A. Morrow; assistant director, Scott Robertson; casting, Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood, Jennifer Smith. Reviewed at Edwards Marq*e Stadium 23, Houston, Jan. 9, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 100 MIN.

With: Jennifer Marsh - Diane Lane Det. Eric Box - Billy Burke Griffin Dowd - Colin Hanks Owen Riley - Joseph Cross Stella Marsh - Mary Beth Hurt Richard Brooks - Peter Lewis Tim Wilks - Tyrone Giordano Annie Haskins - Perla Haney-Jardine Herbert Miller - Tim De Zarn

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