Film review: Hackers

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 20 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

If you've seen the ads, you know that "Hackers" bears some resemblance to "The Net," "Virtuosity" and "Johnny Mnemonic." And, as with those films, the story is quite conventional and predictable.

The good guy has a record, having committed a crime in his past. The bad guy needs a fall guy and frames the good guy. So, the good guy enlists the aid of his peers to clear his name and get evidence that will convict the bad guy.

Sound familiar?

Of course, the real difference between these and older movies that have used such hackneyed plot lines is that now they are surrounded by high-tech, computer-generated, eye-candy trappings.

But the old saw still holds true — if it's not on paper, it won't be on the screen. In other words, no amount of dazzling visual imagery can compensate for a weak script.

"The Net," of course, had Sandra Bullock's considerable appeal to carry it over its rough roads and obvious plotting. Despite some interesting performers, however, no one in "Hackers" has quite that much charm.

The film begins with a flashback, as we see that an 11-year-old hacker named Dade, whose handle was "Zero Cool," somehow managed to crash 1,507 Wall Street computers in 1988. He was arrested by the Secret Service, prosecuted by the federal government and his family was fined $45,000. In addition, a condition of Dade's probation was that he could not use a computer — or even a touch-tone telephone — until he turns 18.

Seven years later, it is the present day and Dade (Jonny Lee Miller) has turned 18. He is in the middle of his senior year of high school when he is forced to move to New York. There, he links up with some other hackers in school, one of whom inadvertently gets into an industrial file that reveals a corporate conspiracy.

The security officer of that company, whose handle is "The Plague" (Fisher Stevens), goes after them and ultimately they must fight back to stay out of prison.

Miller and Angelina Jolie have interesting faces and are convincing as hackers, though their tenuous relationship — one of those we're-always-bickering-but-we're-really-attracted-to-each-other Hollywood stereotypes — is never developed. In fact, all of the characters here are merely "types," rather than being fleshed out.

Stevens' villain is a bit too odd to be working in a straight-arrow corporation (he goes everywhere on a skateboard) and he and Lorraine Bracco, as his partner-in-crime, are never convincing as a romantic item.

There is some clever dialogue, however, and the supporting players are enjoyably cast.

What is most surprising is that the movie is so tame — especially considering the ad campaign, which is selling the material as being on the edge.

"Hackers" is rated PG-13, but contains quite a bit of gun-wielding violence and vulgarity, along with some profanity, sexual material and nudity.

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