Hackers is no different. It gives the impression that someone has read a couple of sensationalistic articles about teenage hackers wreaking havoc on corporations and tried to construct a film around the idea. It is a film that wants to be edgy and cool. You can almost see it breaking a sweat trying to establish its contemporary counter-culture credentials. Hacking is made to sit alongside Generation X fashion, rave culture, rollerblading, skateboarding and faux cynical indifference. Unfortunately, the films pretence to offering an expose of hacker culture is extraordinarily shallow. It touches over various aspects the need for a cool handle, competition to prove oneself by hacking a system and emerging with a trophy, the rivalry to see who can come up with the most daring assault but at no point does any of it ever seem to connect with more than shallow clichés. The film feels very much like the scriptwriter has grafted what they imagine hacker culture to be like onto familiar teen stereotypes without even having met a single hacker in their life. The hackers that one knows are far removed from the people in this film the real ones seem mostly grubby, socially deprived and dress in black a lot. (The best character in the film is Angelina Jolies cynical and unsentimental nihilist, who holds some appeal alas, real world hacking is a pursuit where women seem to be a distinct minority).
The film opens with a great scene of a courtroom where a hacker is tried and convicted of crashing 1100 computer systems, before the camera pans around to show the hackers face and we see it is a ten year-old kid. Thereafter however the film goes downhill. The scripts descriptions of the hackers activities are old hat clichés changing systems to give people criminal records, cancelling credit cards, altering information to annoy people activities that have been done to death by other films. There is one worthwhile scene near the start with Jonny Lee Miller fooling a security guard into giving away a system pass over the phone but the rest of the film exists in a vacuum. For these scenes to emerge as suspense, one needs to be there alongside the hackers as they use such tricks to get inside systems but everything these hackers do takes place as a series of fait accompli flourishes where we are never privy to how they do it. All that the film does instead is offer a medley of cliché scenes as Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie compete to make life miserable for flat-footed FBI agent Wendell Pierce. And the film gets its set-up wrong. Things start to move promisingly into gear when Jesse Bradford is arrested and Jonny Lee Miller threatened but then the plot seems to put any concern with these matters aside and sidetracks off into the burgeoning romance between Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie and scenes with the two competing with one another. While these scenes are occasionally amusing, they should have come much earlier in the film.
The worst aspect however is the films sheer unbelievability. It has the problem of having created its teens as nihilists who are anti-authoritarian and dont care about anything, only to then turn around and have them stand up to (God forbid) save the world from environmental disaster. The climax is absurd hackers worldwide unite to defeat the evil corporation, a rogue tv broadcast is believed, the heros mother is released from custody on slim-to-no evidence, and the FBI agent that the hackers have spent a good deal of the film bugging turns out to be the good guy who shrugs off their harassment and comes and arrests the villains. For all its appeal to Gen X counter-culture anti-authoritarianism, this is a desperately traditional film that wants its anti-authoritarian hackers to prove themselves good kids and be accepted by the establishment.
Director Iain Softley gives the film a driving style, aided by a techno soundtrack. Unfortunately, his visual tricks are banal and clichéd like the shot at the beginning that fades from a circuit board into an aerial shot down on a city. He is forever cutting away into little flash fantasies of what the characters are thinking of Jonny Lee Miller wishing he was with Angelina Jolie, of outbursts of anger, and characters several times fearing they are about to be busted by the cops but the results are banal, not to mention unsubtle. Hackers unfortunately never emerges as more than a shallow effort that wants desperately to be accepted by a niche market that it knows nothing about.
British director Iain Softley previously made Backbeat (1994), an impressive film about the beginning of The Beatles, and then went onto the worthwhile Henry James period adaptation The Wings of the Dove (1997). Elsewhere in the genre, Softley has made the alien visitor film K-PAX (2001), the voodoo film The Skeleton Key (2005), the fantasy film Inkheart (2008) and the imprisonment thriller Curve (2015).