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The Net



In THE NET, Sandra Bullock (DEMOLITION MAN) plays Angela Bennett, a loner computer expert who becomes The Beta Tester Who Knew Too Much when a colleague stumbles across a backdoor being used to enter major databases and sends her a disk to take a look at.

Bullock spends alot of the movie saying out loud what she’s pretending to type. Angela mostly stays indoors, and most of her friends are either software company people in other parts of the country that she talks to over the phone, or people in “Cyberchat.” This being 1995, with dial up modems and floppy disks, that was still a pretty new idea, as was her ordering a pizza online (which I would still never do myself in this futuristic age). Of course it’s a movie that plays up the exoticism of computers and the internet, and heavily bullshits it up. The backdoor creates a rapid burst of screens of information that computers back then couldn’t have handled and that have no possible use except movie flashiness. A virus is instantly identifiable because it turns what’s on the screen into little shapes as it quickly destroys the system. Call it the Photoshop Mosaic Filter Virus. So it’s a goofy mix of dated technology and not-feasible-at-that-time.

While on an overdue vacation in Cancun, Angela meets Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam), suave British hunk who happens to also be on the beach with his laptop, have the same favorite cocktail, share the interests listed on her online profiles and fit her recent chat room description of her ideal man. Hmmmmm.

After her purse is stolen and she and Jack have non-cyber-sex on his yacht she figures out that he’s trying to kill her (shouldn’t have left the gun with the silencer sitting there) and that he has the disk that had been in her purse. She barely gets away with the disk and her life, but by the time she gets back to the States her whole existence has been fucked with via modem. She loses her bank accounts, she’s been moved out of her home and forced into the new identity of “Ruth Marx,” who is wanted on prostitution and drug charges, according to police records when they look her up. Since she lives online and her Mom has Alzheimer’s there’s almost no one who can identify her.

mp_thenetWell, there’s one. She goes to her ex-boyfriend Dr. Alan Champion (Dennis Miller, TALES FROM THE CRYPT BORDELLO OF BLOOD). Even pre-9-11-right-wingening, if Dennis Miller is the only person you can trust then you got a fuckin problem. His sleaziness is inherent not only in his being excited to go to a hotel room with his panicked ex, but in his past as her shrink. But as he does what he can for her even though he’s skeptical about what she’s telling him, he’s pretty likable. It’s actually kinda sweet. (He does not help identify her to people denying who don’t believe her, though.)

The villains are a hacker group. Not quite DIE HARD villains like Timothy Olyphant, but not any more believable. In person they act like secret agents, taking on different personas and using guns, so you assume they’re feds. I guess they must be ex-CIA or something. Their whole trick is that they make the security software that has a monopoly on everybody’s computers, Gatekeeper, and it lets them in. And the billionaire CEO guy is the mastermind, so maybe this movie predicts John McAfee, the commercial anti-virus software baron who was accused of being involved in a murder, but now that I read about it it sounds like maybe that guy got set up or something. This guy in the movie is a definite scumbag. But you’d think after they ground all the planes at LAX, shut down the stock market and other major disruptions, these organizations would start looking for new software. It seems pretty clear that Gatekeeper ain’t cuttin it.

At one point there’s a foot chase between Angela and Jack, and they run through some sort of march for affordable health care that’s going on, and everybody’s holding candles. And I thought holy shit, this is like the climax of BLACKHAT, which is a foot chase through a parade that also has everybody carry candles.

The Net





The movies don’t end up being very similar, but it’s an interesting comparison because BLACKHAT is a more researched and based-in-reality version of computer crime, but also much more effective as a thriller, an action movie and photographs to look at, but I don’t remember THE NET getting the kind of shit BLACKHAT did. However, I checked Rotten Tomatoes and they have it at only 2% higher than BLACKHAT’s 34%, so I guess it wasn’t rewarded that much for its mediocrity.

There’s one pretty cool action moment: in a car driven by someone who she figures out is an impostor FBI agent, she grabs and yanks on the wheel, and unbuckles his seatbelt right before they crash. But most of it is less inventive than that. It’s hard to get too excited about standard issue thriller scenes like Chased Through Disorienting Carnival Rides and Sounds Insane When Telling Interrogator The Truth unless they’re done alot better than these ones.

But the main difference between this and a high quality thriller is the amount of obvious bullshit you’re asked to accept. Thrillers are allowed (maybe even required) to contain outlandish events, so they should ground it in realistic detail and plausible behavior. This one has a ton of one of my major movie pet peeves, which is phony-sounding newscasts. This was presumably made by normal members of an advanced, industrialized society who have had plenty of access to television in their lives. So they should know that this fictional news they’re making doesn’t come across like real news. I mean, they have professional voices to deliver it, but every single time the news is playing in the background or she happens to turn on the TV there’s a news story that directly relates to her or what’s going on with the hackers. Sometimes two news stories in a row that the broadcasters think are unrelated, but we know the score.  And they throw in exposition that would never actually be included in the news, like reminding that don’t worry, everybody uses Gatekeeper software so they should be safe.

That’s another thing: when the news covers these hacker attacks they don’t try to whip their audience into a panic, as we all know real news does. They actually try to downplay the danger by calling the cyber-attacks “pranks.” It’s only an uptight government guy that wants to call the hackers “terrorists.”

Things like that make it a weak movie, in my opinion, but its main point is accurate and much more relevant today than it seemed to be back then. Our whole lives are on computers. Maybe it’s a stretch to think hackers could delete your whole identity. In fact that’s seen as so difficult now that it’s the McMuffin of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Catwoman helps out in exchange for a mythical program that will erase her identity so she can start over. And of course the opposite tactic – exposing people’s information – has turned out to be a popular weapon.

But some of these things, like disrupting airports and the stock exchange, have happened for real. And it points to other catastrophes that could potentially be caused by malicious hackers, whether they’re suave undercover vacation dates, government, terrorist cell or video game fans. A small plane crash is caused by intercepting the pilot’s communication with the landing tower. Dr. Champion is hospitalized when they fuck with his prescription, and killed when they fuck with the information the nurses get about what treatment he needs. It requires human error for this to happen but it seems plausible.

So THE NET is no good but I will give it a mild pass for prescience.


Bullock got hot after SPEED in 1994, and became America’s humble sweetheart for a while as the star of middlebrow studio movies like this, plus more girly movies like HOPE FLOATS, PRACTICAL MAGIC and MISS CONGENIALITY. She became one of those actors who’s ubiquitous without seeming to have a very high standard of quality, so after a while it’s easy to have a kneejerk rejection of her as a representative of the status quo or some shit. But by 2009 she would have an Oscar (for THE BLIND SIDE) and I would say that she was really funny in THE HEAT and really good in GRAVITY, so she’s on the upswing right now in my estimation. And if you got a problem with that, well…


Northam, who I believe was making his American debut here, did stick around Hollywood long enough to work with a few interesting directors. He did MIMIC with Guillermo Del Toro, AMISTAD with Steven Spielberg, GOSFORD PARK with Robert Altman, and of course BOBBY JONES: STROKE OF GENIUS with Rowdy Herrington. In the last few years he’s been starring in TV shows (Miami Medical, White Heat, New Worlds).

This was not the only ’90s suspense thriller for former SNL Weekend Update man Dennis Miller. He also did DISCLOSURE (1994), NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS (1995) and MURDER AT 1600 (1997) (which I thought I had reviewed, but apparently not). His most recent work is JOE DIRT 2: BEAUTIFUL LOSER.

This is actually only the third movie directed by Irwin Winkler, who was more of a producer (POINT BLANK, THE SPLIT, THE MECHANIC, ROCKY, GOODFELLAS, all kinds of shit). He’s directed a few more though, most recently HOME OF THE BRAVE with Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Biel.

Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris had done a few movies previously, including WATCHERS II and MINDWARP starring Bruce Campbell, but they took off more after THE NET. They did an episode of Aeon Flux with Steve De Jarnatt, they did THE GAME (still one of my favorite David Fincher movies), and they did TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. To be frankly honest they also wrote CATWOMAN and TERMINATOR SALVATION, but in their defense they did not write the most recent, worst TERMINATOR. So good for them on that. They did SURROGATES with Bruce and are supposed to be doing a DEATH WISH remake and a xXx sequel.

CLUELESS wasn’t the only summer of ’95 movie to be turned into a TV series. The Net had one 22-episode season that ran in ’98 and ’99. Winkler and Brancato/Ferris wrote some of the episodes. Brooke Langton (Melrose Place) played Angela Bennett, who goes through a similar arc of discovering a hacker group who erase her identity and frame her for crimes and shit.

There was also a DTV sequel in 2004, THE NET 2.0, directed by Winkler’s son Charles. It’s not about Angela Bennett, it looks like it’s just a rehash in Istanbul. But Brancato and Ferris get “based on characters created by” credits anyway.

Although the issues raised in THE NET were very ahead of their time, the technology itself and the way it’s used in society has changed so much that it still seems very dated. I would say it’s due for a remake, except really it’s better to do an unrelated movie that explores similar issues, which has already been done well with BLACKHAT.

Ha ha. You can buy 3.5″ floppy disks on Amazon, and I was going to link to them as a joke, but their tool actually won’t let you, it classifies them as “excluded products.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2015 at 11:21 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “The Net”

  1. The Original... Paul

    July 30th, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Yay! Vern reviews THE NET! Also, Boo! He doesn’t like it as much as I do! (Surprise!)

    This movie is an awesome slice of nineties’ cheese. The “tech” bits are hilarious in retrospect, as is the casting of Sandra Bullock as a genius hacker shut-in who lives on pizza (she has a pretty damn good figure considering that lifestyle). But I’m glad they went with that casting because Bullock and Northam are what make this movie for me. Yet another example of why Sandra Bullock’s name alone used to be enough to convince me to see a movie.

    The only thing that really bothered me about THE NET – of all the dumb things that happen in it – is this: the final showdown is way, way too easy for Bullock’s character. Basically, all she has to do is type some stuff on one of the bad guys’ computer systems, and she has her life back. Everything they’ve done is instantly reverted. After everything her character goes through in this movie, I would think she’d need to do a bit more than that to fix it all. It’s an anticlimax.

    If you’re not a fan of dumb nineties’ hacker movies then I can’t see much to interest you here, other than a good performance from Bullock. If you are, though, this is an enjoyable one, as long as you’re not expecting it to treat its subject matter with intelligence. This is strictly in the “dumb but fun” category.

  2. Never watched it, but for any reason I always thought it was based on a John Grisham novel. (Because the names were always something like THE __________.)

  3. Also I found a box of floppy disks earlier today. It must be pretty much been 10 years since I stopped using them. At least I remember that I bought my first USB stick back in 2005. 512 MB for 12€, can you believe that? Today you get 4 GB for less! Technology is weird.

  4. This movie taught me that a Gibson was a Martini with a little onion instead of an olive. A lot of movies have taught me nothing at all. Thank you The Net.

  5. Nice review. I love the postscripts (they’re like a delicious dessert to the main course review).

    Since you’re doing a 1995 Flashback series, any chance you could take a look at Hackers? It is the “extreme” 90s presentation of online culture. And it has Fisher Stevens on a skateboard.

  6. Wasn’t there also a part where she turns on her TV or computer screen and a rendered animation plays on it like an open fire? Pretty average movie, at least we got a good Seinfeld episode out of it.

  7. Ha! I just Netflixed this the other day, totally didn’t expect to see it in the ’95 retrospective. Especially because it feels like a TV movie from 1985. Seriously, the pieces are there for a decent movie, but the direction is both workmanlike and lazy, if that makes any sense. It’s just cheap-feeling and perfunctory, and mind-boggling to think this was a summer movie that came out after Speed.

    Bullock is likable and her presence single-handedly made this a mild hit, but her “no no no no no” schtick is in full force here (later brought to unbearable levels in Speed 2 and later co-opted by Shia Lebeouf). But props to the film-makers for not overly nerding her up. I’m sure people groaned back then about “why would a shut-in computer hacker be that pretty and look that good in a bikini, etc….?” but it’s almost progressive that they didn’t feel the need to follow stereotypes.

    Plus I like that her character is clever, proactive, and even though the hacking is so ridiculous and basically on par with “magic” the way it’s presented, I like that it’s still a movie about a character who’s the best in the world, gets wronged, and then uses her particular skillset to take down the bad guys with little-to-no help from a guy. (I kept waiting for a nice-guy cop character to show up and was pleased one never did)

    BTW, Paul – you probably haven’t seen it in a while, so you might be mis-remembering the climax – *SPOILER* she actually doesn’t do some typing into the bad guy’s computer system, she inserts the virus disk she was working on for a client earlier in the movie (which they’ve established erases your whole system if you press the ESC key). She then tricks Northam into pressing the ESC key which crashes Gatekeeper’s whole system. Not sure how a) this clears her criminal record/gives her identity back and b) how this aided in the arrest/prosecution of Gatekeeper seen at the end. You figure wiping out all evidence would have made it harder to get her life back/prosecute them, but oh well.

  8. I’m probably closer to Paul than Vern on this one. I dig these kind of ridiculous 90s techno-thrillers, and as far as they go this one is probably at the bottom of the A-List, being nowhere near as fun or memorable as HACKERS, VIRTUOSITY or even DISCLOSURE, and not as unique as JOHNNY MNEMONIC or THE LAWNMOWER MAN, but it’s still a good time. I don’t have any particular desire to revisit it TBH, but I can see myself picking it up out of a bargain bin at the end of a rough day.

    I haven’t seen BLACKHAT yet (my attempt to arrange a cinema trip for it was unsuccessful) but besides being a Mann fan the main reason I want to see it is because it *apparently* does feature the kind of IT illustration/embellishments these films used to show off. As Ebert pointed out in his review of either THE NET or HACKERS, maybe both, computers *need* to be exaggerated on screen, because real computer work wouldn’t be cinematic.

    Despite being something of a luddite, I do get tired of technophobia, particularly in Hollywood movies where it comes off as most hypocritical. I know people who defended the awful TRANSCENDENCE because of its vague “too much technology!” nonsense.

  9. The Original Paul

    July 31st, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Neal – probably the mis-remembering things. It just seems incredibly convenient for one single action to do what was done.

  10. Everytime I see any mention of this movie I just remember Frank Costanza from SEINFELD.

    “Two months ago, I saw a provocative movie on cable TV. It was called The Net. With that girl from the bus.”

  11. grimgrinningchris

    August 3rd, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    Broddie- you have to capitalize The Bus. It’s that much funnier that he thinks that was the title of Speed.

    “You’re not giving away our waaaaaaaater-pick!!!!”

  12. You’ve single handedly driven Costanza and Son to bankruptcy!

  13. Serenity now!

  14. …insanity later!

  15. Something for everyone, a comedy tonight.

  16. flyingguillotine

    August 4th, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    I recall there being a really funny moment in which a bad guy who’s pursuing Bullock gets tangled up by a guy in a bear costume.

  17. You can find the Brancato/Ferris draft of THE GAME online, and I suggest you do. It tells the same story as the movie you know, with the slight difference that EVERY SCENE IS TERRIBLE. Fincher and his re-write man Andrew Kevin Walker are fucking geniuses, recognizing the great idea inside that piece of shit and managing to salvage it.

    ‘Oh, he’s exaggerating and being too harsh for effect,’ you may think. I am not. It is truly an eye-opening experience reading that.

  18. Uhh ok dude but I think your getting your films mixed up, your talking about the Michael Douglas film right?

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