Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

HACKERS (1995) *

Directed by Iain Softley. Written by Rafael Moreu. Photography, Andrzej Sekula. Production design, John Beard. Editing, Christopher Blunden, Martin Walsh. Music, Simon Boswell. Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Jesse Bradford, Matthew Dillard, Laurence Mason, Renoly Santiago, Wendell Pierce, Alberta Watson and Lorraine Bracco. A UA release. 105 minutes. Rated PG 13.
Someone in "Hackers" says "hari-kiri" instead of "hara-kiri" or "hari-kari." The lexical error is slight. The real problem is that the movie, right after a brief, amusing opening, begins to commit a long and painful-to-the-audience hara-kiri.

In Seattle -- Microsoft and Espresso land -- 11-year old Dade Murphy, a.k.a. "Zero Cool," causes 1057 Wall Street computers to crash, creating a drop in the Dow. He is sentenced to keep away from computers until age 18. Cut to Dade seven years later. He is played by Jonny Lee Miller, an English actor (but sans Brit accent) in his feature debut. ("Hackers" is also the debut of its scriptwriter and the second feature by the director who made the good "BackBeat.")

Dade moves to New York City with Mom. She is played by Alberta Watson whose main claim to fame is her role as the incestuous mother in "Spanking the Monkey." She does not have much to do in "Hackers" but she is an attractive addition to the legion of younger mothers appearing increasingly in movies since more and more protagonists are children or youths.

The scene in Dade's New York high school is no Blackboard Jungle or Ridgemont High, except in that typically for American films, nobody ever seems to study, and everybody has time for extracurricular matters. Makes you wonder where the millions of college and graduate students came from.

Dade, now known as "Crash Override," makes friends with a group of young computer geniuses who must have free giga-time to pursue their interests. And since "Hackers" is a cyberpunk techno-thriller, its plot is the old "Us vs. Them" thing, with "Us" being the young whizzes in grungy garb and on rollerblades, and "Them" being the Establishment.

The group is made up of several males and one female, Kate ("Acid Burn"). Does the subtext imply the politically incorrect notion that women are not as capable as men? Double PC --Political Correctness with Personal Computers -- is however restored by having an ethnic youth mix while avoiding ethnic stereotypes -- and, alas, true characters as well.

Kate is played by the oddly named Angelina Jolie, the daughter of actor Jon Voight whom she does resemble, although her bee-stung lower lip makes her look also like a descendant of the late Robert ("The Lip") Montgomery. In one of the oldest movie cliches, rivalry develops between smitten Dade and cool Kate, as the film telegraphs right away that this antagonism will turn to love.

Led by this twosome, the kids come up against super-hacker "The Plague" (Fisher Stevens). Employed as security by a large corporation, he uses his position to rob and blackmail the firm and scapegoating the innocent teenagers. "The Plague" is an adult, so this is where the movie makes contact with the credo of the 60s and 70s hippies: "Never trust anybody over 30."

"The Plague" 's accomplice within the corporation is his mistress Lorraine Bracco whose behavior is between ditziness and catatonia. The man has fooled Secret Service people whom our young technocrats also have to fight, playing dirty tricks on the head agent (Wendell Pierce).

The movie glorifies its "heroes," endows them with skills that are the computer world's equivalent to Ninja exploits. Aside from occasional flashes of entertaining action, "Hackers" steps into a profusion and confusion of techno-gadgetry which goes exponentially from the improbable to the impossible, the outrageous, the preposterous and the absurd. Wretched excess reigns.

With computers becoming the new mythology, the battle against "The Plague" is a "Clash of the Titans" where the old Bauhaus principle of "less is more" is upended by the movie's belief in "more is more." Lights flash, feats are accomplished at three times the speed of light, coordination is perfect, nothing ever goes wrong. It's all computer legerdemain that looks like MTV gone berserk. And it is a bore.

Technophobes in the audience, further confused by jargon, may resolve never to come near a computer. Technophiles, pros, veterans, or ordinary cyber-junkies ought to howl with derision. The never-never silliness of all this was driven home again with giga-force when, soon after watching the movie, I spent a miserable weekend trying to solve one little problem on my machine. But I still love my Mac.

Techno-cyber-PC films are on the increase, though not improving in quality. A work like "WarGames" (another young genius from Seattle) is an adolescent chip-dream but was redeemed by other aspects. "Weird Science" (more whiz kids at the keyboard) was a comic fantasy. "Sneakers" was a fiasco. The recent "Johnny Mnemonic," "Virtuosity, "The Net" are duds.

Unless computer-centered movies get both common and artistic sense in them, we'd be better off with television (the premiere of the Friday evening series "Dweebs" was unpretentiously amusing) or with big flicks about yo-yo competitions.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel