When a cyberterrorist wreaks havoc on a Chinese nuclear facility, the United States government pulls Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor”) out of prison and offers him full pardon to help them take down the new threat. The casting of Hemsworth is against-type, which, though shallow (hack me, you gorgeous Viking god), is mildly inspired; it’s too bad he can’t play a believable cyber security expert.

Blackhat

C-
Universal Pictures
Goodrich Quality 16


Hollywood is fascinated by the idea of the master hacker, but the actual world of “hacking” is not very dramatic. The rare moment of hacker inspiration is sandwiched by hundreds of hours of bland coding. “Blackhat” gets “hacking” right about as much as James Bond gets “spying” right: But, in “Blackhat” ’s defense, it tries very hard to be realistically boring, even cramming out-of-place tech references into the dialogue and dramatically showcasing an honest-to-goodness Unix terminal.

The technical elements suffer the contorting humiliation of dramatic exploitation, and the romance suffers the exact same way. Wei Teng (“Lust, Caution”) plays the romantic interest/sidekick, Lien Chen, whose inevitable relationship with Hemsworth seems unnaturally accelerated, and whose relationship with her brother (Leehom Wang, “Lust, Caution”) is a brittle plot device ripe for the cracking. The manufactured suspense makes the audience feel psychic in that we can predict what’s about to happen at any given time. The explosions will still jolt the excitable, but the familiar strain of conflict and resolution is relaxing in its certainty. A movie about detective work and hacking becomes a cruise-control thriller, and the ride is embarrassingly smooth.

Lacking the camp glamour of “Swordfish” or “Hackers,” and lacking, too, the snappy, endlessly justifying writing of “The Social Network,” there seems little reason for this movie to exist. It adds nothing novel to its genre. The director, Michael Mann (“The Last of the Mohicans”), who has received praise for the technical bravado of this sad flick, couldn’t tell an algorithm from a hole in the wall (as the opening CGI sequence illustrates, literally). “Blackhat” was written, directed and acted out by people who think of a zero-day “backdoor” exploit as a literal backdoor that someone forgot to lock.

Its failure to faithfully depict hacking is secondary to its failure to thrill, and in this capacity, the film has thoughtful direction over writing that inexorably shoots itself in the foot – the epic-scale dramatic event at the beginning, a nuclear plant implosion, leads into a secret plot threatening another epic-scale event, the flooding of a tin mine. The impending, threatened catastrophe is far less compelling than the catastrophe that has already happened. This is a violation of Cinema 101: the stakes should increase, and instead they drop off.

The end of the movie is vague enough to allow for a sequel, but there probably won’t be one. The inspiration here was as sparse as its box office coffers.

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