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Short-sited thriller

Rated R
Playing at area theaters
One-and-a-half reels out of four

The Internet is an easy place to lose yourself. It’s nothing at all to adopt another persona and say things with impunity that you otherwise would never say. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day an enterprising filmmaker comes along and makes a really brilliant horror film on the subject.

I saw FearDotCom the other night and I’m here to tell you we’re gonna have to wait a little longer for that one.

Stephen Dorff plays a hardened New York City detective who teams up with an official from the health department after three corpses turn up with similar symptoms. The one thing they seem to have in common is they’ve all visited the same Web site, fear.com. After much discussion, the two investigators agree the only way to solve the case is to visit the site themselves.

I’d love to say, "Boy, what a stinker this is," and be done with it. Bad horror movies are usually pretty easy to poke fun at. Imagine how many laughs I could get just from playing off the Web address (www.lousymovie.com was one idea). But I would be dishonest to go that route because the first half of the movie is really quite interesting.

It’s pretty clear that director William Malone was going for something different. I got the feeling he was shooting for a film-noir mood similar to the vastly superior Dark City, a wonderful sci-fi film from the ’90s that about 10 people saw, eight of them critics who raved about it. Unfortunately, things pretty much fall apart in the second half of FearDotCom. I wish I could put my finger on it, but I felt like I was watching paint dry while attending a bad family reunion and talking to a telemarketer at the same time.

The film definitely boasts an interesting cast. Dorff has excellent horror credentials, his jet-set vampire easily being the best thing about Blade. Natasha McElhone (The Truman Show) is an elegant and intelligent actress who deserves to be more of a household name. And Stephen Rea does an amazingly bad American accent, yet manages to be very creepy anyway.

To sum it up, the art direction is interesting, but things never really jell. A friend of mine pointed out a rather curious, even major, inconsistency in the plot. The fear.com Web site has a lot of people logging on whom we never see. Why aren’t they dying? I think Malone missed out on a great opportunity there. Just imagine a site where millions of people are logging on, only to die of a mysterious disease 48 hours later. Now that’s a brilliant idea for a movie, if I do say so myself.

Changing Lanes
Available Tuesday
Rated R

What do you say about a movie that stars Ben Affleck as a smarmy lawyer and Samuel Jackson as a loose-cannon insurance agent? You say "bravo," more for the acting than the story, which is a little weak. But director Roger Michell keeps things going at a great pace and lets the two stars go at it, no holds barred. Jackson plays a divorced father of two who has one last idea to get his family back. When he gets into a traffic accident with fast-track lawyer Gavin Banek, all bets are off. At its best, Changing Lanes recalls the socially conscious movies of the ’70s.

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