Just as the frenzied dot-com era blinded so many to the larger realities of what works, so, it seems, does a love of technology blind filmmakers to what works for audiences. Writer-director Jed Weintrob's technologically intense On_Line, an ensemble drama about a gaggle of New Yorkers (and one Midwesterner) who feed off of a cybersex site for profit, pleasure and aspirations to connect, suggests a similar disconnect. Other indie films, including Center of the World, Teknolust and Cherish, that have uploaded sexual themes with geeky technology tend to crash. (Like On_Line, the upcoming demonlover will be yet another test.)
If On_Line offers little by way of character development or story, it does have a nifty look, beginning with the opening credits and never ebbing in terms of visual stimuli hammered home via splashy colors and slick style. Weintrob's "video capture" captures--often by way of split screens and engaging close-ups--an array of provocative sexual situations, thanks largely to the webcams that allow his relationship-averse characters to communicate with one another.
Among those entangled in this Web are roommates John Roth (Josh Hamilton) and Moe Curley (Harold Perrineau), who co-run the Intercon-X cybersex site that allows users to find webcam-delivered porn-pals. Whereas John has problems of real intimacy, the promiscuous Moe is much more prone to real live encounters. As Moe scores, John drinks, smokes and masturbates. Even hip movies deserve better heroes than this. Yes, John is pining for a lost love, but On_Line ultimately reveals that, in addition to his indulgences, he's also a victim of bad taste in women.
Also featured are the pill-popping Moira Ingalls (Isabel Gillies), the hotsy Latina Jordan (Vanessa Ferlito) and two gay guys--older New Yorker Al (John Fleck) entices young Midwesterner Ed (Eric Millegan) with his very theatrical sadomasochistic renderings of a dominant German pilot.
On_Line is really the story of a bunch of self-indulgent characters whose lives are lived through fantasy and long-distance sex. Arousal has evolved from erotic phone chatter to multimedia webcam stimulation via exhibitionism and role-playing, suggesting a tagline like: Is it live or is it cybersex? In any case, it isn't progress, which might be Weintrob's message.
In spite of the weaknesses of these cyberslaves, some success stories do emerge from all of the interpersonal dysfunction and a drug-related hospital detour. But, doomed by Weintrob's passion for the Web, his passionless characters are little more than manipulated "bots"--and audiences, absenting possible hipster appeal, may vote more zeroes than ones for this digital tale.--Doris Toumarkine