The Net Sequel

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we visit the dark web for a peek behind the digital curtain in search of the sequel to the Sandra Bullock hit The Net!)

Everyone knows the interweb is a scary place, but some of us are old enough to remember a time when the promise of an online wealth of information sounded like a good thing. Hollywood was even quicker than the real world in dissuading us of the notion, though, as they rushed to develop and release cautionary tales about the nightmare heading our way across dial-up phone lines and digital threads. Movies like Hackers (1995), Strangeland (1998), and You’ve Got Mail (1998) terrified viewers with the possibilities, but it was 1995’s The Net that really drove the point home.

If our lives are nothing more than a series of zeroes and ones, then we’re all just a keystroke away from being erased forever. The concept’s less frightening now that I have student loan debt, but in the mid ’90s? Nightmare fuel. Well, in theory. The Net isn’t exactly a good movie, let alone a classic thriller too precious for a low-rent straight to DVD follow-up. It’s fine.

That’s good news for a sequel, though, right? New filmmakers have less of a hill to climb in the hopes of matching the original and only need to deliver a solid, competent thriller. Unfortunately, we got The Net 2.0 (2006) instead.

The Beginning

Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) is an online wizard who works as a freelance programmer/debugger/hacker for companies fighting bugs in their code. She’s something of a hermit with relationships that exist almost exclusively online – friends, business acquaintances, pizza delivery joints – and the only real exception is a mother who’s currently suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s a lonely life, but it’s the life she chose. She’s forced into far more social situations, though, when a glitch she’s asked to debug is revealed to include a backdoor virus that allows access into otherwise protected systems. Soon she’s targeted by a team of killers able to make her life miserable by essentially erasing her online identity. They sell her house, kill her therapist (it’s okay, he’s played by Dennis Miller), and give her a new online ID that marks her as a wanted fugitive. How do you prove who you are when no one can vouch for you and the computers we trust so much say otherwise?


The DTV Plot

Hope Cassidy is on the run from police in a foreign land, and she’s not quite sure why. The only thing keeping her going is the memory of her dead dad saying in times of trouble she only needs to remember her name, because “no matter how bad things get, there’s always Hope.” Thanks Dad! She leaves her naysayer boyfriend behind and comes to Istanbul on the promise of a high-paying job working as a systems analyst, but she’s targeted before she even lands. Her bank account is emptied, her passport is re-issued with the wrong name, her Hotmail account is deleted, and when she goes to her first job it’s with a sleazy, Ron Jeremy-looking executive excited to show off his supercomputer secured with an impenetrable security system based entirely on him saying his own name. All of this is told in flashback interspersed with the world’s most unofficial interrogation as she’s being held on suspicion of committing two murders.

She’s telling her story to a psychiatrist (for some reason) while awaiting transfer and trial, and she walks the woman through the whole experience from realizing she’s been set up to using her crazy average tech skills to find out who’s doing this to her and why. People start dying around her, a stewardess gives her a bracelet, the bad guys panic over AOL Instant Messenger, and Hope turns the tables when she steals back the money they claim she stole. Well, at least until they’re turned again by double crosses, surprises, and twists! (I’m being generous.)


Talent Shift

The original film came relatively early in Sandra Bullock’s career, but she had already bust out big in both action movies (Speed, 1994) and romantic comedies (While You Were Sleeping, 1995). Her name was enough to carry the film past $100 million at the box-office. The supporting cast is filled out with plenty of familiar faces including Jeremy Northam, Diane Baker, Ken Howard, and Ray McKinnon. Director Irwin Winkler was no slouch either having helmed two well-respected dramatic thrillers with Guilty By Suspicion (1991) and Night and the City (1992), and while writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris couldn’t claim similar critical acclaim they were certainly working screenwriters. They’d found success in the horror genre before moving up to studio genre pictures with their high point being David Fincher’s The Game (1997)… and low point being Pitof’s Catwoman (2004).

The on-camera drop in known talents is as steep as you’d expect here with Nikki Deloach taking the lead role. She’s a perfectly okay actor despite lacking Bullock’s charisma and skill, but if you’ve seen more than three entries in her filmography you’ve got more time to kill than I do. Don’t even bother scanning the supporting players for recognizable performers. Writer Rob Cowan is something of an odd bird in that while his only writing credits are this stinker and the short-lived television series adapted from the original, he’s had a successful producing career with films as diverse as The Conjuring (2013), Tammy (2014), and yes, The Net.

The only really interesting name associated with The Net 2.0 is director Charles Winkler. He’s Irwin’s son! Has this ever happened before? I don’t know! The closest example I can think of is 2017’s Pork Pie from director Matt Murphy which is a loose remake of his father Geoff Murphy’s Goodbye Pork Pie (1981). The comparison ends there, though, as Pork Pie is a terrifically entertaining movie that honors its predecessor. The Net 2.0, by contrast, feels more like young Charles taking a digital shit on his father’s memory. (Irwin is still alive as of this writing, but for the purposes of my analogy I’m pretending the two are estranged because Irwin told his untalented son to please find a new career as far away from the movie business as possible.)


How the Sequel Respects the Original

The plot is basically the same in the general sense complete with killers, keystrokes, techno-speak – “[Sigh] Subnet 345…” – and a young woman fighting against overwhelming odds.


How the Sequel Shits on the Original

How does a movie made eleven years later feature computer graphics that feel more dated than its predecessor?! It’s not just that this movie looks, feels, and smells cheap, but its structure means we’re also not given any time to meet and care about Hope before her identity is stolen and the adventure begins. Bullock’s Angela is someone we like and even feel for before things go south meaning our concern grows once she’s in real trouble. Hope, though, is a blank and bland page, and her fate is of absolutely no concern to anyone watching.

The senior Winkler’s movie at least looks like a movie – from its cast to its action to its cinematography – but the same can’t really be said for Winkler the Younger. You’d be hard-pressed to find three straight seconds here that look and feel well-made as Winkler Jr. and his team give it all the cheapest sheen imaginable. I’m talking Charlie-level Sheen here. The camera shakes in otherwise static shots, a fifth of the movie is shot at a 45-degree angle, and the editing is painful to the vision-unchallenged. The editing is used narratively to start in media res with Hope in trouble before jumping back and forth to show how we got there, but it’s also a shitshow in any given scene as action is jumbled, sound effects accompany image shifts, quick flashes move us forward/back, and random we’re plagued repeatedly with freeze frames to highlight big “dramatic” beats.

The movie’s visually offensive, but the script tries to keep pace through sheer stupidity. She tells her boyfriend that there are probably more terrorists in his paleontology class in Santa Monica, CA than in the whole of Turkey. A local Turkish woman fixes her dinner while in Turkey and says “Hey you hungry? I have Turkish food.” After being framed for a murder and a theft she comes upon a bad woman who’s been stabbed — and takes hold of the knife, pulls it out, and then tells the approaching cops it’s not what it looks like. She also talks to herself a lot which is lazy in the best of movie circumstances but wholly obnoxious in flashbacks being told by the same person. “I can’t believe this!” she says to no one while engaged in a car chase. “I hope this works. Yes!” Oh, and the boyfriend back in CA who told her not to go? He’s in on the whole thing for some reason that never makes a lick of sense. He explains the whole scheme while they walk and fight down a long stairwell, but it’s gibberish.


Conclusion

Most of these DTV sequels are bad, and some are surprisingly okay, but this? This is actively and aggressively terrible. It’s a shoddy mess from beginning to end, and the post-production effort to liven it up through a criminal overuse of amateurish editing shenanigans only to serves to magnify its awfulness.

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