Few things anger me more in movies than deliberately incompetent or stupid cops. Can’t figure out how to advance your thriller or horror film? Need to raise the stakes? Have the cops come in, bungle an investigation, and refuse to help the beleaguered protagonists. They’re the amateur screenwriter’s crutch. So you can imagine my frustration when this happens not once, but twice in John Moore’s I.T., the director’s first non-franchise, non-sequel film since his debut Behind Enemy Lines (2001). I truly wanted to like I.T., a thriller about a rich tycoon being harassed and stalked by a vengeful computer programmer.
Mike Regan (Pierce Brosnan) is a self-made aviation mogul eager to launch a new service entitled Omni Flight, essentially an Uber for billionaires. But one of his employees, a disturbed military veteran and ex-NSA agent Ed Porter (James Frecheville), fixates on his teenage daughter Nancy (Stefanie Scott). After repeatedly stalking her, Mike fired Ed, causing him to throw the mother of all MRA tantrums. He turns Mike’s futuristic technology against him: locking the brakes of his smart car, causing him to crash in the middle of a tunnel; implanting false evidence that his company tried to bribe the government; meddling with Mike’s wife’s mammogram so they came up positive. But the first trip to the cops doesn’t come until Ed emails every member of Nancy’s school a video of her masturbating in the shower. And what do the cops do in response to one of the largest scale sexual harassment cases in the internet age? Absolutely nothing. They don’t investigate, they don’t check the cameras in Mike’s smart-house, they don’t even interview Nancy. When Mike tells the cops whose doing it and why, they brush him off.
Later Ed tricks the police into arresting Mike on a bogus assault charge. That didn’t bother me. The part that did was when the police decide to give this visually disturbed, visually belligerent maniac the gun they confiscated from him earlier. Surprise, surprise, he takes the gun to Mike’s house, ties up his wife and daughter, and waits for him to return home so they can have a good, old-fashioned home invasion climax.
Maybe if the film tried to make a point about police ineffectuality or corruption, these preposterous twists could have been justified. But this isn’t that kind of movie. They refuse to investigate the masturbation video because the film needs Mike to be helpless. They give the crazy stalker his gun back so the film can have a stereotypical conclusion. What frustrates me most is that I.T. has moments of brilliance. Ekkehart Pollack’s cinematography is staggering. He creates a world of harsh geometric patterns and labyrinthine interiors of computer screens and windows. He somehow raised the old trope of hackers plugging away at luminous computer terminals in pitch-black rooms to visual poetry.
I.T. also features the most fascinating “fixer” since Harvey Keitel’s Mr. Wolfe in Pulp Fiction (1994). About two-thirds of the way through, Mike calls in a favor from an old government buddy who gives him the contact info for a cleaner named Henrik (Michael Nyqvist). His single job is to make Mike and his family invisible. He methodically deletes all of their online accounts, all of their files, and all of the technology in their house that could be hacked. He works with the cool detachment of a surgeon, yanking them off the grid into the Stone Age. He later aides Mike when he breaks into Ed’s apartment to steal his equipment, serving as his eyes and ears as a one-man Mission Impossible team. A wise filmmaker would have made the film solely about him. But we’re stuck with Mike and Ed and a whole division of obnoxiously oblivious cops.