Well-acted all around, Jed Weintrob's On_Line invades the playground of webcam pornography sites (and webheads who use their computers as video phones) and discovers that real human beings are far more interesting than technology or even fantasy. The more bold and provocative French film Thomas in Love explored similar territory with futuristic finesse, but On_Line tells a good yarn all the same, with the salient message that "The world is a lot smaller than you think."
Josh Hamilton plays John, a "regular" guy who--with buddy Moe (Harold Perrineau), runs a porn site called "Intercon-X." Beginning here, Weintrob takes us on a fiberoptic tour of an online community, including suicide site www.finalexit.net, the voyeuristic 24-hour www.angelcam.org and John's own video-diary site www.silentcity.net, all of which are now "actual" websites maintained by the filmmakers. Adult artist Moira (Isabel Gillies) and collegiate gay youth Ed (Eric Millegan) chat regularly at "Final Exit," while Ohio-an Ed cyber-dallies with (and later befriends) the middle-aged New Yorker Al (veteran performer John Fleck) on "Intercon-X." Hot "Intercon-X" performer Jordan (Vanessa Ferlito) tries her luck on a real-world date with John, while Moe dates (recklessly) Moira. It's a small world, after all.
On_Line is somewhat ambivalent about internet pornography and the insularity of web communities, and that's probably a good thing. Hesitating to judge the websites while gently suggesting that reality is a healthier way to live, Weintrob notes the pros and cons of both lifestyles without taking a definitive stance. Compelling characters (with performances to match) do most of the talking for Weintrob and co-writer Andrew Osborne, while Weintrob concentrates on efficiently heating the story to its neatly choreographed, roiling-boil climax.
An impressive level of detail (the graphics--especially those in the title sequence--are snazzy) and a streak of mordant humor help to suck the viewer in to this ambling comedy-drama. Weintrob uses split-screens to collide the internet with reality, depicting an orgasm as a conflagration of panels. Video cameras turn up in unexpected and sometimes fantastic locations. The suicidal teen reads (or pretends to read?) a coffee table book on knots, while one couple share a drink online, clinking their glasses on their computer screens. For good measure, Weintrob shows John and Moe headin to their local rep house to take in a favorite movie: Tron.
On_Line's points--when it does make them--are familiar and perhaps obvious, but still increasingly relevant. At one point, John pauses recording his internet-diary dissection of the sexuality of "AngelCam" to listen to the sounds of sex coming from the apartment next door. It's a bit hard to root for John, who's pretty much as bland as he thinks he is. Nevertheless, On_Line is at its best sympathizing with these romantic losers, the kind who think aloud "How exquisite it must feel to be a thing of beauty."