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With: Josh Hamilton, Harold Perrineau Jr., Isabel Gillies
Written by: Andrew Osborne, Jed Weintrob
Directed by: Jed Weintrob
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 87
Date: 01/01/2002

On_Line (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Tuned In, Turned On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Two years ago, the French filmmaker Pierre-Paul Renders released Thomas in Love, an entirely first-person look into the life of one shut-in, who conducts all his affairs through computers. The film even took place entirely through the main character's point of view.

That was an extraordinary experiment and an effective film. Jed Weintrob's new On_Line is also interested in a completely virtual life. But it's also aware of that nagging question of what life on the outside must be like.

In On_Line, a community of internet geeks communicate almost entirely over the web. The main exceptions are roommates John Roth (Josh Hamilton) and Moe Curley (Harold Perrineau, from The Matrix Reloaded). They've created a complex on-line sex service with which two people can communicate directly through webcams and the customer can create his or her own personal fantasies.

Moe hooks up with a flesh-and-blood girl, Moira (Isabel Gillies), who works in a local café. But John obsesses over two on-line girls, one -- called "Angel" -- who lives out her daily life in front of her webcam, and another, Jordan (Vanessa Ferlito), a sex virtuoso who works for their company. John also keeps his own video diary website.

In addition, Moira hangs out on a suicide site called "Final Exit," which attracts another lonely soul, Ed (Eric Millegan), a gay twentysomething stuck in the middle of Ohio. His only connection is with Al (John Fleck), a sex-worker he's met online through John and Moe's service.

Things heat up when John contacts Jordan one night for some very steamy virtual sex. He's so good at it that she wants to meet, which predictably turns into an awkward disaster.

Weintrob and co-writer Andrew Osborne balance this unwieldy cast with grace and clarity; it helps that the performances are uniformly excellent. One gimmick that helps is the use of split-screens, showing a computer screen in one half of the frame and real life in the other half. (Sometimes splitting into even smaller fragments depending upon the action.) Ang Lee used this device to add significance to Hulk, but here it actually works.

Best of all and unlike most American movies, On_Line actually admits that human beings think about sex. A lot. It goes a long way in making us think about why we've set up all these virtual playthings for ourselves -- without bashing us over the head with moralizations. Although it does feature a slightly gimmicky Nashville-type ending during which one disaster brings the whole community together.

Strangely On_Line loses its way only in the live-action, real-life scenes. We've all seen the "painful first date" scene as experienced by John and Jordan, and somehow it's more fun to hear John talk about it on his website. Maybe the private experience enhances the pleasure; it has more to do with the voyeuristic nature of movies themselves.

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