Gimmick sinks thriller "Profile"

Valene Kane appears in a scene from “Profile.”

Director Timur Bekmambetov has become the master of the Screenlife format, with his two “Unfriended” films and the missing-person drama “Searching” playing out in real time on a computer screen.

But his latest attempt at the genre, “Profile,” ends up being a frustrating experience – a film with a compelling story that is undermined by the computer-screen gimmick.

In “Profile,” Valene Kane plays Amy, a British journalist who pitches a story idea to her editor about using the internet to find a terrorist recruiter and expose his attempted recruitment of vulnerable women around the world.

Amy sets up a Facebook profile with an alias, posing as a recently converted Muslim who is interested in learning more about the Islamic State group. She is immediately contacted by a man named Abu (Shazad Latif), who starts flirting with her and promising her a wonderful life if she joins him in Syria.

Amy plays along and acts interested, trying to learn more about Abu so she can expose his operation in her story. But the more the two interact online, the more she becomes distanced from her own family and fiancée and the more she is drawn into Abu’s world.

“Profile” is based on a true story that occurred in 2014. The premise is promising, with Latif and Kane both believable and compelling in their respective roles.

It’s too bad their performances are overshadowed by computer screens and some annoying manufactured tension with the computer gimmick.

Will she remember to switch screens? Will that Skype call from her sister tip Abu off? It’s moments like these that are meant to add tension but serve more as a distraction to the real story.

The script never completely fleshes out Amy, although its tries hard showing her interacting with family and her fiancée. Those moments just grind the film to a halt and never serve the purpose that Bekmambetov is clearly seeking.

By reducing Amy to a computer screen, it also makes her transition in the relationship with Abu and her ultimate decisions with everything on the line less effective than they should have been.

If Bekmambetov had played “Profile” straight, it might have worked, but as it is it’s just a thriller with a lot of potential that is never realized of a tired and increasingly overused gimmick.