‘Profile’: Unfolding entirely on screens, terrorism thriller loses its connection

Plot turns silly as a journalist goes undercover to trap an ISIS leader via Skype.

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Valene Kane (inset) plays a journalist who poses as a recent Islam convert to investigate an ISIS leader (Shazad Latif) in “Profile.”

Focus Features

Mainstream movies and TV shows told through computer screens have been a thing for a number of years now, most often in horror films such as “The Den” (2013) and “Unfriended” (2014), though arguably the most innovative and effective use of the technique was the “Connection Lost” episode of “Modern Family” in 2015, which is told through Julie Bowen’s Claire via her laptop screen as she waits for her connecting flight at O’Hare Airport. (One running bit had Cameron continually asking if Claire had remembered to pick up a tin of Garrett’s cheese and caramel popcorn for him.)



Focus Features presents a film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Bekmambetov, Britt Poulton and Olga Kharin. Rated R (for language throughout and some disturbing images). Running time: 105 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.

Director Timur Bekmambetov is best known for his wildly entertaining “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which I’m fairly certain took some liberties with known historical fact, but he was a producer on the “Unfriended” movies and he returns to the computer-screen palette with “Profile,” which might be the most ambitious entry in this genre. Despite an intriguing premise, it ultimately falls apart as the gimmick wears thin and the plot veers into ludicrous territory, with the heroine making a series of increasingly rash and idiotic decisions.

Based on a novel by reporter Anna Erelle that was inspired by Erelle’s experiences, “Profile” stars the Irish actress Valene Kane (“The Fall”) in an earnest if tough-to-buy performance as Amy Whittaker, a 30ish freelance British journalist who is struggling to make ends meet even as her overbearing fiancé Matt (Morgan Watkins) is out looking for a new flat for them to inhabit. (Amy’s FaceTime conversations with Matt, as well as her interactions with every other character in the movie, her texts, her emails and the research she does on the Internet — all of it is seen on her laptop screen. It’s as if we’re standing behind Amy throughout the entire story.) Amy is intrigued by stories of dozens of Western European women who have left behind their middle-class lives to join ISIS, so she pitches a TV news editor named Vick (Christine Adams), who comports herself nothing like any TV news editor I’ve ever known, on the idea of Amy posing as an impressionable 19-year-old named Melody who is a recent Muslim convert and looking to swipe whichever way one swipes online to become a jihadist.

Cue the scenes of Amy watching tutorials on applying makeup to look younger and how to wear a niqab. In a matter of a few keystrokes, Melody attracts the attention of a handsome, charming, duplicitous and most likely murderous ISIS leader calling himself Bilel (Shazad Latif), and soon they’re confiding in one another, sharing meals via Skype and openly flirting, as Melody draws him into her net — or maybe it’s the other way around. Alter ego Melody starts making plans to join Bilel in Syria and become his wife, while Amy juggles conversations with her justifiably concerned fiancé as well as a Muslim IT guy (Amir Rahimzadeh) who becomes worried about Amy’s state of mind and Amy’s impatient editor, who wants the story NOW. Video calls and texts and Facebook posts and emails fill up Amy’s screen and thus our screen, as it appears Amy/Melody really has fallen for this con man terrorist and is most likely going to wind up dead unless … unless … there’s a groan-inducing development that just might save the day.

By then, we’re past the point of wanting to log off and move on.

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