Hackers (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The film industry has discovered computers, and the resulting tide of movies about users -- and abusers -- seems impossible to stem. From Disclosure to Virtuosity to The Net, cyberspace is becoming a hot commodity. The latest picture to cash in on this trend is called Hackers and, rather expectedly, deals with a group of computer addicts who have made a pastime of breaking security codes that guard major systems. The headlines occasionally give us news stories about such individuals, but nothing in the real world has come close to the overblown silliness that functions as this film's main storyline.

Dade (Jonny Lee Miller), aka Crash Override, and Kate (Angelina Jolie), aka Acid Burn, are rival hackers. They're adversaries with a sexual attraction, and each is obsessed with getting a leg up on the other (perhaps literally as well as figuratively -- they're having erotic dreams). Most of their hacking is confined to relatively tame things: setting off a school sprinkler system, invalidating an obnoxious FBI officer's credit card, and changing the programming of a TV station. One night, however, Dade and Kate's friend Joey (King of the Hill's Jesse Bradford) gets into the Gibson Mineral Corporation's mainframe, and unwittingly uncovers evidence of a major fraud. The result is a frame-up that has cops coming after all the computer users who have contact with Joey -- most notably Dade and Kate.

In its portrayal of a subculture, Hackers does a good job. The teenage characters, despite being largely fished from a stereotyped pool, are interesting, and their interaction is fun to observe. Especially noteworthy is the constant wrangling between Dade and Kate. Their hacking contest is nicely-handled, and young actors Jonny Lee Miller (who bears a resemblance to Chris O'Donnell) and Angelina Jolie (the sultry daughter of actor Jon Voight) play their roles with enthusiasm and appeal. When Hackers is restricted to teens dealing with each other, it's on the right track.

Unfortunately, that's only half the story. The other part deals with a pair of nasty corporate baddies played by Fisher Stevens and, in a teeth-grindingly awful performance, Lorraine Bracco. Not only is this action/crime stuff amazingly dumb, but it steals screen time from better aspects of the film. It also leads to an ending every bit as hard to swallow as that of another recent teen-related release, Angus. Neither film apparently thinks much of its audience's intelligence.

English director Iain Softley, whose last film was Backbeat, puts a lot of high-tech energy into this production. The soundtrack is loud and the camera never stops moving. It's an MTV-style of film making, but it works perfectly for this sort of story. Hackers is always on the move -- there's not a slowly-paced scene or a dull moment to be found. If nothing else, this film won't bore the average viewer. However, when Hackers has been dissected, what's uncovered beneath the flashy skin is an old-fashioned, film-by-numbers thriller.

Hackers (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 1995-09-15
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1