"Hackers" is one of those movies that explore a cool misunderstood teen subculture with a breathtaking lack of verisimilitude. As a result, it gives you more insight into the minds of Hollywood hacks than of computer hackers.
It's about five kids at a New York high school who all just happen to be elite hackers, meaning they've each caused a major pile-up somewhere along the information superhighway. (Multiply these five kids by the number of high schools in this country and you wonder how any computers manage to get anything done if so many smart-alecky punks are routinely fooling with them.)
Despite goofy nicknames like Cereal Killer, they're the hippest computer nerds on the planet. The fact that they spend every spare moment fiddling with their laptops hasn't prevented them from ferreting out trendy underground clothing (costume designer Roger Burton's look could be called Road Warrior of Beverly Hills). Rather than discussing the nuances of "Star Trek: Voyager" over the Internet in their lonely rooms, they jam in a club that's equal parts acid house and virtual reality arcade.
Requisite sexual tension is provided by Dade (Jonny Lee Miller), the new kid in town with a secret past, and Kate (Angelina Jolie), who initially dates a guy whose occupation is "just [looking] slick all day"--only in Hollywood can that pay the bills. As young lovers will, Dade and Kate flirt by showing off their hacking skills, competing to see who can ruin the lives of others more ingeniously.
For the rest of the cast, sexual tension is provided solely by their hardware: If real life made fetishes of computers as much as this movie does, Bill Gates would be People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. One guy plays with his nipple while describing an act of corporate sabotage, while another plants a big, wet kiss on his computer screen. Kate even abandons a bout of heavy petting at one point to show off her hard drive.
If the kids stand in one spot long enough to have a conversation, inevitably a sign will sprout up behind them reading, "Trust your technolust." If these guys got carpal-tunnel syndrome, you can bet they'd accessorize with studded black leather wrist braces.
Eventually, a semblance of plot surfaces, which can be summed up fairly thoroughly by a mere two lines of dialogue:
First: Corporate villainess Margo (a dazed Lorraine Bracco) asks skateboarding cyberweasel the Plague (Fisher Stevens, one of the least menacing bad guys in cinema history), "You've created a virus that's gonna cause a worldwide ecological disaster just to arrest some hacker kids?"
Later: Discussing a beleaguered comrade, a pal of Dade's says, "The Secret Service is really out to get him--hey, there's a big party tonight, you wanna go?" At least their priorities are straight.
And the hardware! These kids' equipment come with options CompUSA declines to tell you about when you're browsing through PowerBooks: Keyboards have sound systems that, when tapped upon, create cool, futuristic echoes and ear-splitting guitar riffs (Simon Boswell's music seems intent only on blowing out THX Dolby theater speakers from coast to coast). Screens splash their images across the faces of their users and extemporaneously depict animated bytes flowing through circuitry as the hackers explore corporate files, which are apparently accessed as easily as pointing a mouse at an icon. (Can Windows 95 do all this?)
All this is courtesy of the short-circuited imagination of Rafael Moreu, making his feature screenwriting debut, and director Iain Softley, who hopes that if he piles on the attitude and stylized visuals, no one will notice just how empty and uninvolving the story really is. All the sound and fury in the world can't disguise the fact that yowling music, typing montages and computer animation do not a gripping finale make. This movie megabytes.
* MPAA-rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language. Times guidelines: It includes scenes of gratuitous typing.
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Jonny Lee Miller: Dade
Angelina Jolie: Kate
Matthew Lillard: Cereal Killer
Renoly Santiago: Phreak
A United Artists Pictures presentation, released by MGM/UA Distribution Co. Director, executive producer Iain Softley. Producers Michael Peyser, Ralph Winter. Screenplay by Rafael Moreu. Cinematographer Andrzej Sekula. Editors Christopher Blunden, Martin Walsh. Costumes Roger Burton. Music Simon Boswell. Production design John Beard. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.