I like William Gibson as much as any other wet-wired meat-machine, but cyberpunk seriously has a lot to answer for. For one thing it allowed those involved in computers to portray themselves as cool and hip in a really annoying way, uttering things like “We are the samurai, the keyboard cowboys.” I’m not saying hackers and citizens of the online community are not important or skilled as I have little to no idea of the kind of smarts it takes to program code. Skilled like mathematicians and mathematicians helped break codes during World Wars like the whole Enigma thing, but that doesn’t mean I have to buy a math nerd as James Bond with a calculator. And when cyberpunk prompted a new subculture to be adapted and consumed into popular culture, Hollywood would strike, attempting to invest the mundane task of using a keyboard and perceiving data into a visceral, cinematic experience. Case example: Hackers, directed by Iain Softley, an attempt to translate the world of computer piracy into a hip and edgy and rebellious teen movie, where hackers are upstarts who rollerblade and tap keyboards with lightning dexterity while The Prodigy’s ‘Voodoo People’ continuously plays over the soundtrack.
Hackers attempts to blow your headspace in the opening sequence where SWAT team swarms over a white picket suburban home, kicking down the doors for a suspect, and then there’s a court case with the Public Enemy Number One they’ve captured. A young Felicity Huffman reads out the charges where hundreds of computers on Wall Street were crashed simultaneously through the power of hacking and there was a financial crisis and the camera pans to the right and finds dead air, but wait a minute, pan down and WHAT, it’s an eight year kid named Dade! Wargames wasn’t an effective warning obviously as our investment with computers has turned children into super genius rebellious criminal masterminds – Damien 2.0. The parents are sentenced to fork over thousands of dollars in damages and Dade is sentenced to not use a computer until he’s eighteen as obviously he would no longer be interested in defying authority or anything like that because teenagers follow the law to the letter, so nice thinking there, movie judge. Anyway, time out as I still need to recover from this concept that children can control the flow of society through hacking. Cue the Law & Order sting – DA DUNK. Fast forward to when Dade’s turned eighteen and is now Sick Boy from Trainspotting (Johnny Lee Miller) but with Matthew Boderick’s accent and his mother is knocking on his bedroom door asking,
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking over a TV network.”
Mind explosion control alt delete. Hack MTV, please! No, instead Dade uses his hacking talents to interrupt a Rush Limburagh conservative talk show host with an episode of The Outer Limits, basically turning over the channel but using the magic of computers and fooling dimwitted guards who don’t know what a modem is (a strange new world was 1995...). His user name is Crash Override and he meets another hacker named Acid Burn online and they have a hacking duel, which is portrayed cinematically with the director dropping in stock TV footage for a shoot-out montage while the trance megamix score is notched up a couple of levels. Sample text: “I will swat u like the fly u r.” BURN. Then there’s some Parker Lewis Can’t Lose shenanigans when Dade hits his new high school (see, his sexy single mother has moved them to New York, which Dade is annoyed about as you can’t do anything in New York apparently, NY = BORING!) and he meets some other hackers who don’t know he was that famous outlaw hacker child, but then he also meets Angelina Jolie in one of her first star roles, being sexy and full-lipped and not emaciated as she is currently. Jolie’s lips play a prank on him by telling him there’s a pool on the top floor but he gets locked out when it rains and there’s no pool. Dade uses his hacking powers to make the school computer turn on the fire sprinklers wetting everyone while he opens an umbrella because he is radical, woot. Then there’s a hip new club where the hackers meet and rollerblade and exchange illicit books of government code and the nerd fantasy is indulged that you can impress a girl with your video-game playing prowess when Dade beats Angelina Jolie’s score on a first-person race-game in a mind-numbing scene that makes none of this look very interesting.
The plot eventually kicks in when a corporately sponsored hacker named The Plague creates a Leonardo Da Vinci themed virus in the corporate Oil corporation super-network that embezzles money but throws off everyone the scent by a threatening plot to drop oil into the world’s oceans; the ethos of the 1960s is resurrected with the ecological concern displayed here (I have a dream and it involves hacking the planet to save the whales!). The authorities believe that it was our hero hackers who are responsible, all because of a floppy disc with the evidence on it, which falls into Dade’s lap eventually. First fundamental problem of this movie is that the villain of the piece, The Plague, is played by Fisher Stevens, the rubbery faced character actor who played the Indian professor in Short Circuit; Martin Short must have been busy. I had no idea what they were going for here because The Plague is neither threatening or funny and in the end is quite embarrassing particularly his introductory shot where he skateboards into the main computer network with a goatee, a fur coat and a grim look. The result is the question, “Wait, isn’t he the comic relief to the main bad guy, you know, a corporate boss played by David Warner or someone with... presence.” Warning: your movie needs a reboot, preferably the Alan Rickman version 2.0 villain program, please. And The Plague’s philosophy? “There’s no right or wrong, there’s only fun and boring.” And you, sir, are the latter. Also: the femme fatale of this movie is Lorraine Bracco in a blonde wig, which is neither sexy nor funny to watch. FAIL.
Speaking of things we are supposed to take seriously but cannot take seriously, here is some of the dialogue from Hackers:
“You could sit at home, and do like absolutely nothing, and your name goes
through like 17 computers a day. 1984? Yeah right, man. That's a typo. Orwell is
here now. He's livin' large.”
“You want to be the elite, you want to do a righteous hack.”
“Hacking isn’t a tool, it’s a survival strategy.”
“Has a killer refresh rate.”
“We have just gotten a wake up call from the Nintendo
“It isn’t a virus, it’s a worm!”
“Hackers of the world unite!”
Yes, as Dade and the ragtag group of rebellious nerds on rollerblades are pursued by the Feds (headed up by Bunk from The Wire) and ‘Voodoo People’ is played once again, but they find themselves working together, particularly once Dade discovers Angelina Jolie is a secret hacker nerd who says things like “I want to triple my RAM” (nerd fantasy number two: sexy girls actually dig on this software bullshit!) and is actually Acid Burn (Hackers is the You’ve Got Mail of hacker movies then). Two Asian dudes who run a Wayne’s World public access show and are named Razor and Blade help them out, televising the union of hackers to log onto their laptops and hook up their cables to public telephones and defeat The Plague from realising his nefarious plan that seriously lacks any tension or interest. More Mission Impossible style break-ins into the corporate buildings, please, like Sneakers, thank you. We don’t even have any polygon avatar battles like Johnny Mnemonic or The Lawnmower Man in the climax and instead have arty shots of the hackers in telephone booths spinning in slow-motion. LAME. Give me a dated CGI hacker battle next time, Hackers, that is if you were like a video game and could possibly change at all when next experienced (Paging Tron!).
The worst thing that Hackers has to answer for, however, is the introduction of Matthew Lillard to the world of acting. While all the characters in the movie are spectacularly annoying, Lillard should get a special Mork From Ork Award for Achievement in Annoying with his character, Cereal Killer, a whacked-out, grandchild of Woodstock (or Hackstock, LOL) with pig-tails and suspenders and acts like a hyperactive tit. Then again, Lillard may be providing the movie’s sole smidgeon of truth, which is that hackers are actually rather irritating sorts who you wouldn’t want to meet in person and would rather read about in a Wired article. While he might not be the coolest Hacker in the movie, Lillard can rest assured with the data that he certainly is a Hack, ROFL. Oh yeah, HACK THE PLANET!