Following the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures, months of attacks against major retailers and this week’s strike against the United States Central Command’s Twitter account, hacking and cybercrime are ripe for dramatization.
But “Blackhat,” a shaky action flick directed by Michael Mann (“Heat,” “The Insider,” “Public Enemies”), botches its shot at being the of-the-moment cyberdrama it might have been.
Named after “black hat” hackers who infiltrate computer and Internet security systems for the purpose of enriching themselves, “Blackhat” spends much time showing people staring into computer screens and mobile devices. Lines of code and other details appear in big-screen close-ups, too.
The film’s topic may make such imagery unavoidable. Unfortunately, Mann, screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl and the cast don’t find a way to make such sedentary activity interesting. Three-fourths of the two hour, 13 minute-long “Blackhat” is slow and dull.
Inevitably, too, the underachieving “Blackhat” opens in January. Movie studios introduced their holiday season blockbusters late last year. Although Oscar contenders are still trickling down to smaller markets, the time has come for new product. The stopgap “Blackhat” fits the bill.
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth affects a tough-sounding American accent for “Blackhat” principal character Nick Hathaway. Nick’s a brilliant guy who turned hacker after some bad luck in his youth. He’s introduced in the story living a hard-knock life, serving a long prison sentence for cybercrime.
The movie’s minimal character development allows a few other words of explanation for Nick. His inner cockiness won’t be tamed. Prison bars can’t stop him from thumbing his keyboard at The Man. Nevertheless, Nick looks depressed through the whole movie. Other characters are similarly disaffected. Viola Davis’ FBI special agent Carol Barrett usually looks ready for a nap. Davis’ underwritten role gives the two-time Oscar nominee little to grasp. She cellphones the role in.
Chinese actress Chen Lien’s performance as Nick’s instantly acquired lover equals a blank stare. Appearing in her first American film, she speaks her English dialogue as if she doesn’t know the meaning of the words.
Swimming against the general lethargy afflicting the cast, Wang Leehom, a Chinese-American pop star and actor, somehow injects urgency into his performance as a Chinese military officer who plucks old friend Nick from prison.
In its sloppy try at being contemporary, “Blackhat” also suffers from jolting, handheld footage. You’ve seen better camera work in amateur cellphone video. And badly photographed actors running through tunnels don’t create suspense. It’s strange, too, that filmmakers used the same shaky, blurry photo technique to shoot a huge, colorful Indonesian ceremonial procession staged for “Blackhat.”
An energetic final half-hour may be a last-ditch rescue attempt for the film. But bloody, crudely choreographed violence, obviously staged for shock value, don’t bring the fuzzy “Blackhat” into focus.