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The Net Review

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Forced to go on the run by cyber-criminals, she tries to clear her name and expose the baddies in the process

★★★★★

To say The Net takes some swallowing rather understates the issue. For starters, this fraught computer thriller, cooked up around the all-new information super-highway, asks us to accept that lovely, feisty Sandra Bullock is a reclusive computer nerd who shuns folks in favour of a desktop crammed with hardware.

And, after she happens upon a nonsense plot of computer-fraud-world-domination hijinks with one click of the mouse too many, the poor lass finds her identity erased from all computer records, a crisis conveniently aided by the fact she has no friends, and her only living relation, her mum, has Alzheimer's and can't recall her name.

Yet arch contrivance is the lifeblood of the Hollywood potboiler and this is competent, eminently watchable stuff with some sneaky takes on computer paranoia and Bullock proving a chip off the Julia Roberts woman-in-peril block. The bad guys, when not fiddling with her pixelated existence, take on three dimensions in the form of the slippery - and yes! - British heavy Jeremy Northam, who stalks his prey through deserted Los Angeles streets by beaming into her mobile phone frequencies. And she, predictably, is completely on her own, as the police, hospitals, FBI - all wired to the Net - are told that she is the criminal. It's classic Hitchcock, reglossed with the big theme of the 90s - the Internet.

Winkler, whose direction is too meandering to really thrill, is best on the localised fear; this is a real wake-up call to the deficiencies and dehumanisation of a computer-run society. But the big conspiracy theory is sketchy at best, and Northam's smarmy killer is too obvious to give the film the required lift away from the techno buzz of the computer screen. Bullock has done, and will do, better work. The Net entertains but is unlikely to hang around on the cerebral hard disk for too long.

Low on both tension and credibility