The Net

on July 28, 1995 by Kim Williamson
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   What computer analyst Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) yearns for is a man who is "Captain America meets Albert Schweitzer." What the reclusive woman--she performs all her hacking at her Venice, Calif. canal home for her large corporate client, San Francisco-based Cathedral Systems--finds when she ventures out for her first vacation in six years is a cold-blooded killer (British stage actor Jeremy Northam) and police pursuing her, with worldwide economic catastrophe looming to boot. The reason: She's unwittingly come into possession of a secret disk that would reveal a plot by a group of Internet anarchists called the Praetorians who want to collapse the social order.
   Longtime producer Irwin Winkler, whose first two forays into the director's chair ("Guilty by Suspicion" and "Night and the City") were well-crafted but lukewarmly received by audiences, brings more to this genre work than is needed--or even desired. The thriller elements are sometimes overpumped; when Bennett crashes into a car on an otherwise empty street, for example, the driver of that car happens to be her killer. Likewise, the plot has a few logic bumps, but the scripting triumphs in making computer arcana meaningful in narrative terms. The sheer likability of Bullock's onscreen presence overshadows almost all problems in any case, as the actress turns in yet another seamless performance. "The Net" is even more a test of Bullock's appeal than was "While You Were Sleeping," in that here (and unlike the similarly structured "The Pelican Brief," which paired Julia Roberts with Denzel Washington) Bullock must carry the show on her shoulders alone. They're slim shoulders, but they prove more than sturdy enough for the task. Most of the film's flourishes are also on the money, notably Diane Baker as Bennett's Alzheimer-afflicted mother and Mark Isham's thrumming score.    Starring Sandra Bullock and Jeremy Northam. Directed by Irwin Winkler. Written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Irwin Winkler, Rob Cowan and Richard Beebe. Produced by Irwin Winkler and Rob Cowan. A Columbia release. Thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and brief strong language. Running time: 111 min.
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