Monday, August 10, 2015

Dial It Up


Quick Plot: Meet Angela Bennett, a pretty but introverted computer genius who spends the majority of her time on the internet in her home office. Despite looking like Sandra Bullock, Angela doesn't get out much or socialize. She's far more comfortable conversing in chat rooms than face-to-face, and her hottest date of recent seems to be a medium pie from

Ahh, the '90s. To those born in a tragically dark world before the convenience of seamless or grubhub, ordering your pepperoni from a website was once considered both futuristic and weird. Today, I see Angela's experience with as a tragedy in itself not because it demonstrates her fear of people, but because poor little Angie was robbed of the wonder that is Domino's rather amazing, if a tad racist interactive interface that involves a talking Caribbean toucan.

Back to The Net, Angela is just about to take a Mexican beach vacation (sadly lacking pizza-talking toucans) when one of her web pals sends her a mysterious floppy disc (think USB sticks but shaped like toast) that seems to have a flaw. What should be a simple music program somehow grants savvy hackers access to government records, banking databases, and much much more.  
Angela puts the disc out of her mind to soak up the sun, drink what sounds like the worst cocktail ever known to man (WHO PUTS ONIONS IN ANYTHING THAT DOESN'T NEED ONIONS??), and flirting with a dashingly handsome Brit named Jack Deviln who seems to be painstakingly made for her. Naturally, he proves to be a creepy hitman whose job is to steal the disc and leave Angie swimming with the pescados.

Thankfully, Devlin turns out to be absolutely terrible at his job. Maybe it's all the Gibsons he drinks, but the man is woefully unprofessional. For a company that later proves to be manipulating major banks, corporations, and the federal government, they ultimately show some rather large holes in their hiring practices.

That doesn't make life any easier for Angela, or as the evil web company has now renamed her, Ruth. Though she manages to get back to the States, her ID has been swapped for an ex-con drug addict whose name sends red flags to all police officers or other professionals she tries to enlist for help. Her only friend/ex-lover/ex-therapist/ex-yes-that's-very-icky-and-the-movie-doesn't-really-seem-to-care Dennis Miller tries to help, but it doesn't take longer than a Weekend Update for him to fall prey to the evil corporate website killers. It's up to Angela herself, with no resources other than her own moxie and fast typing skills, to save herself and a whole lot of urls.

As an unabashed fan of '90s cinema, I was excited to revisit Irwin Winkler's film with the giggles of nostalgia. Imagine my shock/slight disappointment to discover that mom jeans and floppy discs aside, The Net really hadn't aged poorly. Sure, we've come a long way from ordering your dinner online being a sign that you are one cat away from sad spinsterhood, but the actual depiction of the world wide web doesn't necessarily feel like a relic from a time long past. Our lives ARE in the hands of those better at manipulating technology, a fact that some people fear and lazy ones like me simply accept.

The real strength of The Net, however, isn't its adorably quaint internet graphics but its adorably lovable Sandra Bullock.

Yes, it's me. The same person who wrote over a thousand words about how The Blind Side was one of the worst movies of the post-Jim Crow world. See, I contrary to what some people may think, I love Sandra Bullock. She's a delight. 

But The Blind Side really is a terrible excuse for white people feeling good.

Back to Bullock, she really is the heart of this film and it's easy to suspect any other actress would not have made The Net such a watchable movie. Fairly fresh off her star-making supporting part in Speed and romcom debut While You Where Sleeping, Bullock proved here that she had that natural charisma to keep viewers engaged in virtually any material. It's impossible not to care about Angela. Part of it is that the character makes fairly smart choices throughout the screenplay, but the bigger part is that Bullock never overdoes the character.

There are certainly drawbacks to The Net. At just under two hours, it's longer than it should be but paced intensely enough to where you don't necessarily notice. Angela's agoraphobia or social anxiety or what exactly isn't particularly well defined. Nearly all the scenes of tension end with one of those "free at the last possible minute" kind of tricks that hardly seems possible the first time, let alone the fifth time around. Still, twenty years after its debut, this remains an involving and entertaining watch.

High Points
While Angela isn't exactly Rosie the Riveter, it's a huge relief to see the film wisely avoid some potentially unsteady gender ground. The movie doesn't judge Angela for sleeping with Devlin, and while the Dennis Miller character is problematic due to the icky/unethical doctor/patient boundaries, it also doesn't tack him or anyone else on as a love interest. The men in Angela's life aren't right for her, and by the end of the film, that seems to be just okay.

Low Points
Seriously, how many times can a character turn his head only to turn back and find you have vanished? 

Lessons Learned
In Colorado you grow up with guns

In the mid '90s, one could always count on a perfectly timed street parade to commence just as you might need a giant crowd to escape into
Hotel televisions have a remarkable ability to turn to just the right news station that has a shred of a story relevant to your current affairs
Look, it's not a treasure of its time, but I really enjoyed The Net. Angela's Cassandra-like warnings of the internet's borg-like assimilation knowledge have essentially proven true, and we didn't even have to kill Dennis Miller to get there. Fans of this type of movie--especially from this era--might be surprised at how a dial-up tone aside, this has saged surprisingly well. For the others, enjoy some


  1. Fun review, Emily!

    By the way, have you seen Geena Davis film The Long Kiss Goodnight? It's a dumb 90's action film that's an absolute blast!

  2. I have! Loved it! We did a podcast episode on it sometime last year too.

  3. Ooh, neat! I'll have to bulk listen to your podcasts when I have the time!