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‘Clickbait’ tells a twisty mystery that might not be worth a click

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

“Clickbait” is one of those intriguing ideas that’s likely to lose followers as it progresses, a social-media-age whodunit that features a different character every episode, building toward an increasingly convoluted payoff. If you start watching you’ll probably want to see this Netflix death-by-Internet mystery through to the end, but as is often true, think hard before that first click.

The premise casts a sparingly used Adrian Grenier (“Entourage”) as Nick Brewer, a family man who is kidnapped, with an unseen abductor making him hold up cards that claim he abuses women. When the video receives 5 million views, the kidnapper warns, Nick will be executed.

The inexplicable ultimatum trigger a range of reactions, most urgently from Nick’s sister, Pia (Zoe Kazan), who is absolutely convinced that Nick couldn’t be guilty of the alleged actions that could lead to his death. Nick’s wife, Sophie (“Get Out’s” Betty Gabriel), seems harder to read, perhaps because she harbors her own secrets, as does virtually everyone else passing through the show’s orbit, whose stories get slowly unwoven in interlocking fashion.

The police, meanwhile, appear skeptical at first. Pia continues to press the cop (Phoenix Raei) who initially caught the case, whose interest in it — and potentially her — unleash internal department politics, none of which seems particularly helpful to the cause of locating and rescuing her brother.

Created by Tony Ayres (who came up with the Australian drama “The Slap,” which also told a story from multiple angles), it’s certainly an ambitious concept, with a “Rashomon”-like quality in the fact everyone possesses a different perspective. Gradually, each of the eight hours dribble out new snippets of information, leading closer to uncovering the truth.

The inherent challenge with this sort of construct, however, comes from avoiding a buildup that’s significantly better than the resolution. Alas, that’s mostly the case, as the narrative relies on a steady diet of new twists — some clever, others farfetched and seemingly dropped out of left field.

Along the way, “Clickbait” mashes up references to the cruelty of social media, callousness of the local media and vagaries of things like dating apps, creating what amounts to an illusion of broader relevance when the objective is just finding another somewhat novel means of presenting a serialized crime thriller.

In that sense, “Clickbait” does at least reflect the commercial mentality defined by the title — namely, once the show has elicited enough curiosity to prompt people to check it out, it’s actually irrelevant whether it delivers on its promises.

“Clickbait” premieres Aug. 25 on Netflix.

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