Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Sexuality and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Iain Softley
Written by: Rafael Moreu
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Jesse Bradford, Laurence Mason & Renoly Santiago
Ah, the 90’s. A decade where the futuristic capabilities of technology seemed boundless. In the 80’s, Hoverboards graced the screen in BACK TO THE FUTURE Part II. In the 90’s, we now had computers that were seemingly capable of anything and everything. HACKERS is the epitome of dated 90’s clichés mixed with a techno-thriller in the same vein as WARGAMES. While there is definitely cheesy so-bad-it’s-funny pleasure to be taken out of this teenage oriented comedy-thriller, HACKERS is a film that’s riddled with style over substance, half-baked writing, and a running time that feels entirely too long for its skeleton of a plot.
Dade Murphy (a.k.a. Zero Cool) is a notorious hacker who was arrested at the age of eleven for crashing over 1,500 systems in a single day. Now legally an adult, Dade has finally been allowed near a computer again and is hacking away at his leisure. Straight from the often-used well of teenage movie tropes, Dade finds himself relocated to a new high school where he makes enemies with a female rival hacker, Kate (a.k.a. Acid Burn). Though he finds himself at odds with the hackers in the school, he begins to blend in with their clique. The group of teenage cyberpunks find themselves in hot water when a newbie accidentally hacks into the files of a corrupt businessman and a world-threatening computer virus is unleashed with a ticking clock. It’s up to Zero Cool, Acid Burn, Phantom Phreak, Cereal Killer, and a bunch of other walking 90’s clichés with silly handles to save the day.
The intentions behind making HACKERS were reasonable enough. Rafael Moreu was inspired to pen the screenplay when he saw hackers evolving as an entirely new clique in society and police cracking down harder on cyber crimes. For the most part, he’s sort of right in that both senses. You hear stories about Anonymous and their secret society way of doing things (hacktivist movements which I mostly find to be downright admirable). Meanwhile, Lizard Squad and the Deep Web resulted in a whole lot of arrests. In general, hackers have definitely gotten to a point in society where Moreu was predicting they might end up. That being said, I find this film’s annoying too-cool-for-school style and by-the-numbers plot to be rather dull. HACKERS is a movie that cares more about how it looks than what it’s about. While certain visually engrossing movies have succeeded without a clear defined plot, HACKERS mistakes clichés for style.
The 90’s is my personal favorite decade in cinema, but this time period definitely had its fair share of flops and misses. HACKERS falls into that latter category of 90’s filmmaking. The style is forced to a point where it’s simply unbelievable and unintentionally hilarious. There’s a constant techno-soundtrack running in background that has a couple of good songs, but mostly sounds repetitive. This film also has tons of establishing shots, annoying montages (using old movie clips to convey emotions of a character as opposed to convincing performances or good writing), and pointless dream sequences (from three different characters). These three annoyances comprise about 25% of the running time. The rest is designated to these characters playing video games, ogling laptops, rollerblading through traffic, and pulling pranks on each other to win a competition. Oh, there’s also a good vs. evil plot somewhere in there, but that makes up 30 or 40 minutes of the actual film. It’s a shame too, because the goofy villain (played by Fisher Stevens) is probably the cast’s biggest highlight.
While it’s certainly fun to watch young Jonny Lee Miller and barely legal Angelina Jolie trying to take this film seriously, the nearly two-hour long running time is still a drag to get through. The plot is a jumbled mess of 90’s styles, teenage clichés, and a ticking clock plot that occasionally pops in. The movie does have an undeniable cheesy charm to it, but the obnoxious style (movie clips, montages, and dream sequences) kills a lot of the momentum. As this year’s hacker thriller BLACKHAT demonstrated, colorful visuals and “intense” scenes of people typing away at a computer screen are not going to help your movie if the characters are bland and the writing sucks. While I think HACKERS is a slight step above that dull as dirt would-be thriller, I still recommend that you pass on it. The only circumstances where I’d recommend watching this movie are if you have a bunch of sarcastic friends who enjoy so-bad-they’re-good movies as well as a steady supply of beer and pizza. In that case, go for it. Otherwise, skip HACKERS.