Hackers Misses The Mark

ATN's Jennie Yabroff caught a screening of Hackers the other day. Here

is her report: If you're thinking of seeing Hackers for the plot,

forget it. You've seen it a thousand times before. If you're thinking of

seeing Hackers for the effects, you'd be better off with the latest

Schwartzenegger CG fantasy. If you're thinking of seeing Hackers for

a morality play about the ethics of cyber technology, you'd find more

provocative questions pondering the contents of your freezer.

Which brings us to the question why anyone should see the latest Iain Softley

film, which deals with a renegade group of computer hacker teens who

accidentally step on the toes of a corporate computer hacker villain. And the

answer is..... well, it's interesting to chart the attempts of Hollywood to

cash in on the latest Big Thing, namely computer technology. So far, there

have been a few ambitious attempts, but no one has hit the nail on the head.

Or the "sale" button on the register at the box offices.

Disclosure made nice use of virtual reality imagery, and skillfully

integrated technology into the human relationships, but the film was still

essentially about Demi Moore's breasts. The Net raised some

tentative questions about privacy and the Internet, but quickly degenerated

into your basic chase flick. Hackers differs from these movies in

that it's about kids, none of whom have been on the cover of Vanity Fair

. They do what they do for love, not money, but otherwise it, too, has

nothing new to say.

Johnny Lee Miller is Dade, AKA Zero Cool, AKA Crash Override. Arriving at a

new school in a new town (New York City) Dade immediately falls for sexy Kate

(Angelina Jolie) who just as quickly douses his ardor by locking him on the

roof, right before a rainstorm hits. His interest piqued, Dade accesses

Kate's file on the school's computer, which in turn arouses Phreak's (Renoly

Santiago) interest, who sees that Dade just might be "elite," i.e. hip to the

vibe, hack-wise.

Dade joins forces with Phreak and his motley band of hacker compatriots, and

all is well until Joey (Jesse Bradford), the prepubescent, chain-smoking,

always trying to prove his hacking manhood member of the group goes snooping

in the wrong garbage, and gets everyone in a mess o' trouble. Suddenly The

Plague (a perfectly cast Fisher Stevens) is hunting down Joey, Dade, and the

gang with an evil vengeance, since he thinks they're the perfect stool

pigeons for his plot to steal billions of dollars from the high tech

corporation that employs him as a security expert. Somewhere along the line

Kate gets involved, and there is a bet about who is the better hacker, Kate

(AKA Acid Burn) or Dade.

The plot is both convoluted and banal, and the script, by first-timer Rafael

Moreu, provides alternately too little and too much information. Moreu has a

tricky job, though, in explaining the technology to the Luddites in the

audience without sacrificing pace and making the dialogue sound like a UNIX

manual. Moreu seems determined not to alienate his audience with too many big

words or new concepts, and as a result the "killer hacks" Dade and Kate pull

off to satisfy their bet are unimaginative and pedestrian. Canceling credit

cards, running phony personals ads -- these are more the antics of Ferris

Bueller than an elite hacker, and what's more, they don't necessarily require

a computer.

Director Softley's pacing is quick, but he brings nothing new to the screen

in terms of cyber graphics. How many times have we seen a miniature

airplane's eye view zooming around inside a computer to simulate accessing

files? The superb control and mastery of mood Softley exerted on Backbeat

is replaced by a nervous energy and overall lack of cohesion. In some of

the scenes it looks like he pointed the camera haphazardly and left the set

for a cup of coffee.

One strength of the film is the character of The Plague, a nice satire of an

anti-social computer nerd kid who suddenly has money, power, and respect.

Stevens' Plague binges on junk food and champagne, rides his skateboard

hanging onto the window of his limousine, and has the moral and social skills

of a three-year-old. In a society where computer geniuses are increasingly

becoming the new rock stars (no need to reference a certain person's

recent publicity blitz), The Plague's over- the - top persona, and the havoc

he wreaks on society at large, is perhaps the most provocative,

question-raising aspect of the film.