Net Games (October 12/03)
What can really be said about a movie that opens with a sequence that's almost a shot-for-shot "homage" to the beginning of Basic Instinct? I suppose it's fortunate that the rest of the film didn't rip-off that Verhoeven classic, but given that Net Games eventually becomes a Fatal Attraction for the 'net set, it seems as though the screenwriter has a real love for Michael Douglas movies.
Former '80s teen heartthrob C. Thomas Howell stars as Adam, a successful businessman with a seemingly perfect marriage. But as we soon discover, Adam's wife was raped several months prior and has been unable to hop into the sack with her husband since. This frustrates Adam, who eventually seeks out companionship on the Internet. Stumbling into a chat room, he meets the saucy and sexy Angel - and the two enjoy a wild night of cybersex. Adam sees the dalliance as a one-time thing, while Angel was hoping for a more permanent arrangement. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Angel begins to insinuate herself into Adam's life - and that the family cat is now living on borrowed time.
Though the film is competently made, Net Games is so unoriginal in both its execution and presentation that's it's virtually impossible not to watch the movie without thinking of the movies that inspired it. Really, if you've seen Fatal Attraction, you've already seen this. The filmmakers attempt to modernize the story by using the Internet as a key plot point, but even that aspect of the movie is poorly done. Like Fear Dot Com, another terrible cyber-thriller, the production team behind Net Games seemingly have never actually been on the Internet because all the 'net images in the movie are impossibly high-tech. I can't think of a single website that has the same sort of complicated and interactive graphics as the chat room shown in the film. It might make for a more visually arresting experience, but for anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Internet, it's a glaringly obvious flaw.
But that's nitpicking, really, especially considering the derivative storyline and poor performances. Howell, never a terribly good actor but not without his charms, comes off horribly here. Aside from the fact that he's playing a character so sleazy it's virtually impossible to root for him (in fact, one might be more inclined to cheer on the villain), Howell's twitchy performance is more distracting than anything else. He seems uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassed to be in the movie, and the same can be said of the supporting cast. Perplexing cameos by Marina Sirtis and Ed Begley Jr. add nothing to the story, presumably present so their names can adorn the film's packaging.
It's hard to imagine anyone sitting down to watch Net Games and coming away from the experience satisfied; fans of Howell (if there are even any left) will be turned off by his grating performance, while the lack of nudity will alienate soft-core aficionados.