Diane Lane gets sucked into another film project that doesn't match her acting credentials with <em>Untraceable</em>.

Here comes another film reigniting the nagging cinematic question: When will Diane Lane get a role to match her considerable talents? Whether it’s the paucity of decent Hollywood roles offered to women older than 26, bad choices, or other unstated forces, Lane has a habit of casting her pearls before swinish gigs. Actually, it’s not fair to lump the passably engaging cyber-psycho-thriller Untraceable in with cinematic swine, but it does continually err on the side of pulp.

Whatever the film’s missteps and hack elements, Lane is once again magnetic at the center of this creepy little number. As an FBI cybercrime detective in Portland, Oregon, and a mother/detective/widow, she spews forth computer speak with the best of ’em, and ends up being a kick-ass fighter, rather than a damsel-in-distress, come the inevitable climactic showdown. On the job, her hunt for the usual suspects-ID thieves, Trojan virus dispensers, cyber-sex stalkers-suddenly goes exponentially more psycho with the arrival of a serial-killing deviant whose shtick is to kidnap and set up creative torture-until-death scenarios for his victims, all streamed live on the Internet. The kicker is that the victims’ deaths are hastened by the number of visitors to the site, which naturally zooms upward as the word spreads. The scheme gives “Web hits” a new meaning.

We get plenty of layered lurking and hints of creepiness to come, whether through old-fashioned, Hitchcockian means of peering shakily through windows or shower doors or the fresher, digitally relevant theme of peeping through Internet portals.

Untraceable wants desperately to rise to the level of a Silence of the Lambs, or last year’s wonderful Zodiac, but it doesn’t have the goods to do so. What it does have is a strong message attached, some kind of cautionary tale posturing about the perils of virtual voyeurism and mass, anonymous cruelty in the blogging age. In the end, though, the film gets bogged down in psycho badman kitsch, and is guilty of exploiting the sadism it pretends to abhor. That’s show biz.


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