Cyberpunk suspense | Daily News


Cyberpunk suspense

The title characters in “Hackers” are such hip and brilliant young pirates that they can tamper with any computer system without breaking a sweat. What’s more, they are skilled Rollerbladers loaded with eclectic fashion sense, and they can also act as crime-stopping detectives when the occasion demands. They’re so clever, in fact, that some of us are thrilled to know that the actors in “Hackers” had to take a crash typing course to get through the film’s keyboard scenes.

Remember when teen-agers who wanted to do something cool started rock-and-roll bands? Iain Softley does, and so he made “Backbeat,” his resonant film about the Beatles’ early days. But now Mr. Softley turns his attention to a different kind of counterculture, the one ruled by technology-mad nerds. They speak lovingly to their laptops. They write in the language of the person formerly known as Prince (“Leave B 4 U R expunged”). They show off posters and stickers bearing words like Hackstock. Hackstock? That must be the festival where everybody turns on their monitors and stays home.

The gadgety new world that these techno types inhabit has been attracting legitimate movie interest, even if it still hasn’t proved gripping enough to sustain a whole film. So “Hackers” takes on the role of tour guide, just as “Virtuosity” plunged into virtual reality and “The Net” showed us how Sandra Bullock could use a computer to order pizza. “Hackers” not only shows off the lay of this land, but also tries some practical joking, since its young characters use their expertise to play tricks. Standing with a watch and an umbrella just as the high school’s computer-run sprinkler system goes off “accidentally”: that sort of thing.

“Hackers” begins on a wry note, with a S.W.A.T. team invading a suburban house to nab the 11-year-old boy responsible for crashing 1,507 computer systems in one day. The boy grows up to be Dade Murphy (Jonny Lee Miller), who has a punk look and the unsmiling arrogance Mr. Softley favors. (It hurt “Backbeat,” a well-made film with a smugness problem.)

Arriving in New York, Dade falls in with a group of computer friends who refer to themselves as “elite” and trade taunts about their prowess. Within this group, Kate (Angelina Jolie) stands out. That’s because she scowls even more sourly than Dade and is that rare female hacker who sits intently at her keyboard in a see-through top. Despite her sullen posturing, which is all this role requires, Ms. Jolie has the sweetly cherubic looks of her father, Jon Voight.

At first, “Hackers” stays enjoyable just by showing off the principals and their toys. (The cast also includes Renoly Santiago, much livelier here than as the awestruck dinner guest of Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds,” and Matthew Lillard, comically loopy as this film’s token hippie type.) A lot of attention has gone into the film’s video games, computer imagery and costumes, to the point where simply watching these artifacts is half the fun. Andrzej Sekula, who shot “Pulp Fiction,” is the right cinematographer to capture the look of this fanciful, hard-edged playland.

But eventually “Hackers” turns tedious, perhaps not realizing that an audience can get tired of the same old equations floating in cyberspace. It also loses steam by involving the young computer wizards in a plot about corporate intrigue. Though this scheme involves loads of important data, it manages to sound dopey all the same.

The story’s villains are Fisher Stevens, as a computer security expert on a skateboard, and Lorraine Bracco, weirdly out of place as a sophisticated businesswoman. Also in the cast is Alberta Watson, who plays Dade’s mom and also played the mom in “Spanking the Monkey.” She seems to have cornered the market on eyebrow-raising mother roles.

“Hackers” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes profanity, partial nudity and both real and dreamlike sexual situations.

HACKERS Directed by Iain Softley; written by Rafael Moreu; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Christopher Blunden and Martin Walsh; music by Simon Boswell; production designer, John Beard; produced by Michael Peyser and Ralph Winter; released by United Artists Pictures. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated PG-13. WITH: Jonny Lee Miller (Dade), Angelina Jolie (Kate), Fisher Stevens (Plague), Matthew Lillard (Cereal), Renoly Santiago (Phreak), Alberta Watson (Lauren Murphy) and Lorraine Bracco (Margo).

The New York Times

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