Opened: September 15, 1995 | Rated: PG-13
"Hackers" looks and sounds like an "Intel Inside" commercial produced by MTV. It's chock full of quick-cut editing, hip young heros and soundtrack singles, so the flash outweighs the substance by about three to one, but it's decent Saturday matinee fare. Especially for those who thought "The Net" was a little too stiff and serious.
The hero, 18-year-old Dade Murphy (newcomer Jonny Lee Miller), has just begun hacking again after several years of probation for causing 1,507 computers to crash with a virus he created when he was 11. He has a major itch to hack back into other's computer systems, but on his first attempt -- trying to reprogram a small television station in the middle of the night -- he is shut out by another hacker who has laid claim to the same stunt.
This scene is the most clever sequence in "Hackers," with the electronic contest for control of the station being illustrated by clips of battle scenes from old movies and TV shows (similar to the technique used in HBO's "Dream On" series) that are part of the station's library.
The film doesn't exactly go down hill from there, but it never gets any more interesting. Dade and his hacker friends break into the mainframe of an oil company, and the firm's computer security chief, played by Fisher Stevens ("Super Mario Bros."), uses their intrusion to frame them for his launching of a virus designed to wreak havoc on the company's system while he transfers company money to his own bank account.
Stevens bad guy is more interesting than any of the hackers, and with his awkward mannerisms and goofy grin he practically runs away with the movie.
After two of the hackers are arrested for the crime, the others realize that they need help and send out an S.O.S. over the Internet. The film climaxes with a keyboard showdown between dozens of hackers (patching in to the company computer with modems from Grand Central Station pay phones) and Stevens (sitting in a computer control room complete with touch-sensitive keyboards and towering terminals).
The driving force behind "Hackers," which is directed by Iain Softley ("Backbeat"), is the visuals. The movie holds the audience's attention with funky clothes, super-high tech computer rooms and flashy graphics every time Dade and his friends sit down at the keyboard. Flying math formulas splash around in seas of color (which reminded me of a Donald Duck geometry cartoon I saw in the fifth grade) when they invade the oil company, and their computer interfaces look custom-made, not like Windows or Macintosh operating systems.
But music videos visuals do not a movie make.
"Hackers" is fairly respectable as an early entry in what is sure to be a long string of computer movies, but at best it will probably remind many movie-goers of "Sneakers," a similar story from 1992 starring Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier, but without all those darn old people hogging the screen time.
This review appeared in the Daily Republic, Fairfield, CA.
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