The Best and Worst Movies About the Internet
The Five Worst Net Movies
1. The Net (1995). The absolute worst film ever about the Internet is the one whose brain trust couldn't come up with a better title than The Net. This 1995 production was meticulously designed to prey on fears of government surveillance and identity theft that the Internet, then new to the masses, was certain to foster.
Those fears come true for poor Sandra Bullock, playing a hottie developer who ends up with a sort of skeleton-key program that gives the bearer access to all manner of secure government computers. Naturally the bad guys want it, so they switch around her identity, transforming her into a fugitive prostitute. The absurdities pile up like 17-year locusts, but footage of a bikini-clad Bullock triumphing against all odds helped the pic generate more than $100 million at the box office. A 1998 TV series of the same name failed to capture the imagination of the couch potato nation and was canceled after one season.
2. Swimfan (2002). Not a movie about Michael Phelps, this 2002 nightmare finds high-school aquaman Ben (Jesse Bradford) being stalked online by a gorgeous blonde named Madison (Erika Christensen). Her pursuit entails sending Ben naked pictures of herself via e-mail and seducing him in the (brick-and-mortar) pool. But gentleman Ben is conflicted due to a lingering fondness for his cold fish of a girlfriend (Shiri Appleby)...and the fact that Madison seems to keep killing people.
This too-young-to-vote Fatal Attaction angle has been done before, but never so poorly as in Swimfan--and never with such an atrocious title, which is drawn from Madison's not-so-catchy Internet handle: Swimfan85.
3. You've Got Mail (1998). Hollywood has shown more than once that in remaking a classic comedy, the big-budget treatment can be deadly. Case in point: You've Got Mail, a $65 million update of a quaint little 1940 film called The Shop Around the Corner. In Ernst Lubitsch's charming original, Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are anonymous Budapest pen pals who hate each other in real life. In the revised version they're supplanted by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and the Hungarian postal service has morphed into America Online. Thus comedic history repeats itself, first as farce, then as tragedy.
The product placement is so thick in this effort--the title is a hint--that Warner Bros. might as well have handed out AOL CDs with every ticket sold. As for the movie, in the hands of director Nora Ephron (who cowrote the updated screenplay) it's a saccharine mess that goes for the heartstrings like the Boston Strangler. You've got tears!
4. The Chatroom (2002). When the turn of the millennium came and went without the expected cyberbang, some enterprising filmmakers abandoned the Internet as a thriller/horror device and began invoking it in the service of comedy. But pulling off that switcheroo takes talent, and The Chatroom has all the hilarity of a "Hey Vern" commercial.
The setup: As part of an elaborate bet (what else?), a bunch of dudes use Internet chat rooms to pick up girls (the movie's tagline: "Surfin' For Cyber Booty"), only the dream girls turn out to be men, old ladies, transvestites, etc. It's yet another entry in the blind-dates-gone-wrong genre, studded (as so many are) with juvenile gags and put-downs centering on the fat joke, which was old when Aristophanes was doing stand-up routines on the Athenian agora. Come to think of it, though, it does sound a lot like the Internet.
This, by the way, is the only film on my list that doesn't have its trailer posted online. To plug the gap, I've linked to a poster instead.
5. FearDotCom (2002). Much like the setup of innumerable Asian horror flicks, FearDotCom is based on the premise of a Web site so scary that if you visit it you will die. Or someone will kill you, I guess. Imagine how much slaying our villain would have to do if his site got Dugg!
Predictably, FearDotCom doesn't make a lick of sense; it's just an excuse to flood its viewers with image after image of blood, guts, and gore. But as the horror sequences shredded on, viewers were left to ponder the curious domain used in the film: It's not "fear.com" but rather feardotcom.com. Warner Bros. sank $42 million into this movie and couldn't afford a better domain name than that?
Christopher Null is the founder and editor-in-chief of Filmcritic.com, operating since 1995.