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Murder.com

Director: Rex Piano

(US DVD: 6 Apr 2009)

Murder.com is a thriller, but the most surprising aspects of the film are external to the work itself. I was first surprised to find that this was the first film to use the title Murder.com, which seems like it would have been immediately snapped up over a decade ago. Secondly, the film is a mini-reunion of sorts for some of the cast of Baywatch, which you’ll recall was once the most watched television show in the world. Unfortunately, David Hasslehoff fans will be sorely disappointed, since the Hoff does not make an appearance in the film. We do have Alexandria Paul and David Chokachi, however, leading a cast rounded out by Robyn Lively and a host of other familiar character actors.


Murder.com begins with the film’s one and only murder: that of the beautiful young Karen – mistakenly listed as “Kate” on the film’s DVD cover. Karen’s sister Stacey (Paul), a successful Miami divorce attorney, is at a reception receiving an award with her partner Laura when she hears the news. She is in a state of disbelief when she immediately sets out for her small hometown of Venice, a place she hasn’t seen since leaving after coming out as a lesbian. 


Once there, she meets up with lead detective and former high school party animal Bobby Miller (Chokachi), whose past doesn’t fill her with confidence in his abilities to solve Karen’s murder. Stacey is in no position to aid him, however; her sister had not been part of her life since she moved away. She is ready to leave Venice in frustration with the fear that Karen’s killer will never be brought to justice when she accidentally finds an external hard drive that Karen had gone to great lengths to hide.


Rather than turning the hard drive over to the police, Stacey explores it with Laura’s help. She learns that Karen was a member of a sex-themed dating site under the screen name “LadyX4Sex”, giving her a much different impression of the sister she barely knew. Stacey sees that Karen scheduled regular meetings with men from the site, up to and including the night of her death. Seeking to get to the bottom of the mystery and against the wishes of her friend Laura, Stacey signs up for the site as “Legal Action,” takes seductive pictures of herself, and begins making dates to meet the men Karen met shortly before her death. 


Finding them all to be suspect in their own way, she eventually confides in Det. Miller, who reluctantly agrees to run the DNA she collects and offer her protection on these “dates”. The results of the tests come back while Stacey is with one of the suspects and Det. Miller has to race to prevent her from becoming his next victim.


Murder.com is a serviceable thriller that feels at times like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week outlining the dangers of online dating. Despite the film’s tagline of “Online dating can be murder”, the killer is not one of the many men from the website but one of the seemingly harmless denizens of the small town. This isn’t revealed until the very end, however, so the majority of the film is structured to make the audience believe that Karen’s death is the result of meeting a stranger for anonymous sex. 


Murder.com glosses over the fact that Stacey’s behavior is far more reckless than Karen’s, given that Stacey would have been aware that one of her potential dates was a killer. I’ll admit that I was impressed at how well the film utilized its red herrings. The only male in the film completely excluded from the potential killer pool is Det. Miller; all other suspects are given a plethora of motives and opportunities. You’ll have your guess about who the killer is early on, but pleasantly the film makes it someone other than the most obvious suspect to at least make the ending somewhat of a surprise.


My earlier glibness about the actors’ pedigrees aside, Paul and Chokachi both do a fairly good job in the film. The material is pedestrian but both approach it with seriousness and give it their all, so the blame for any faults in the film doesn’t rest on their shoulders. I will commend the film for making the near fifty-year-old Paul the film’s sex symbol; I doubt that many mainstream productions would have made that decision or pulled it off as well. 


Though at times dull, the only major fault of the plot is the treatment of Stacey and Laura’s sexuality as an afterthought.  Stacey’s lesbianism is brought up once at the beginning of the film and once at the end and never mentioned in any of the scenes between, even when it would have been relevant to the plot. She even has a conversation with her high school sweetheart about why she left town without telling him but never goes so far as to mention her sexuality as a reason.  Its inclusion seems to be an attempt to add a “salacious” aspect to the proceedings, which, if that is the case, is insulting and exploitive. 


Ultimately Murder.com feels like a slightly spicier version of a TV movie, the format and length of which it conforms to completely. Given the television backgrounds of the cast and the director, this is not entirely surprising but perhaps a little disappointing to viewers hoping to find something more exciting or challenging than they are able to watch at home for free. There’s almost a guilty pleasure aspect to the film – it’s the cinematic equivalent to a romance novella – and you might well find yourself absorbed into its world of thinly drawn characters and cautionary warnings against escaping the boundaries of small town life.

Rating:

David Ray Carter is a Birmingham, Alabama based film critic and has been writing about film since 1998.


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