Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hackers (Iain Softley, 1995)

I've heard that the net is vast and infinite. I've also heard that the sky over the port is the colour of television tuned to a dead channel. And while I'm not on the topic: "You're no good for me, I don't need nobody / Don't need no one that's no good for me." Hey, everybody. I'd like to officially start off my review of Hackers by apologizing to 1995. I don't know what I was thinking when I  dismissed you recently as bland and uninteresting. You're actually pretty rad. Now, granted, my memory of you is a tad on the foggy side. But thanks to Hackers, your innate awesomeness came flooding back to me like a 28.8 Kbps modem dipped in battery acid (in other words, ultra-fast). The fact that the previous films I watched from 1995 were not set in New York City didn't give me accurate overview of the year in question. And, as everyone knows, New York City makes everything better (even 1995). Take, for example, the amazing Party Girl. It takes place in NYC and came out in 1995. You could also include the New York set Vibrations from 1996 in this category. But that film was shot during the summer of 1993. Either way, I was wrong about 1995. And I'm more than willing to make it up to it by lavishing copious amounts of misguided praise on the only film to make computers seem cool. Yeah, that's right, I said cool. Think about all the movies that have featured computers over the past twenty years. Okay, did any of them make you feel any less lame for having watched them? Of course they didn't. If anything, they made you feel more lame. And given that I'm an expert when it comes to things that make you feel cool, I can safely say that Iain Softley's Hackers is the only movie to boast excessive computer usage that will make you feel cool afterward.

Well, Ghost in the Shell, also from 1995, has, if I recall correctly, plenty of computer usage throughout it. So, it's not exactly the only movie. And, yes, while that is true. Does Ghost in the Shell have a short-haired Angelina Jolie scowling up a storm in a leather racing jacket? No, it doesn't. Does Ghost in the Shell have a more pillowy lipped than usual Angelina Jolie wearing black stockings at night? No, it doesn't. Does Ghost in the... (Stop! We get it.) Good. 'Cause I could have kept going.

And I'm not even that big a fan of Angelina Jolie. In fact, I don't think I have seen more than three of her movies (Gia and Girl, Interrupted are the only ones I can think of at the moment). That being said, her performance as Kate, a.k.a. "Acid Burn," is so freakin' sexy.

Getting back to Ghost in the Shell for a second. The line that unofficially opened this movie review, "The net is vast and infinite," is from Ghost in the Shell. And the one that follows it is the opening line from William Gibson's Neuromancer. And the one that follows that is from The Prodigy track, "No Good (Start the Dance)." The reason I opened my review by quoting a classic piece of anime science fiction, the world's most famous cyberpunk novel and a the oft-repeated vocal hook from a mid-90s techno floor filler is because without them, Hackers wouldn't exist.

Oh, before you snarkily chime in by saying, "Maybe Hackers not existing is a good thing." try to remember the sight of Angelina Jolie's giant eyelids slathered in red eye make-up. Yeah, that's what I thought.

Man, I don't know 'bout you. But it feels weird saying nice things about Angelina Jolie. It's weird because, to me, she's the epitome of humour-challenged Hollywood. Plus, she cares about stuff. I got give it up to her, though. She's on fire in this movie. So much so, that I can't remember the name of the film's lead actor.  Oh, yeah, it's Jonny Lee Miller.

Nevertheless, you know the movie you're about to watch is going to be awesome when it opens with Orbital's "Halcyon + On + On." Playing over the scene where former child hacker, Dade Murphy (Jonny Lee Miller), is flying to New York City with his mother (Alberta Watson), the use of the Orbital track signaled to me early on that Hackers was serious about its techno.

Though, you have to wonder, why are the walls of Dade's bedroom covered with posters for grunge bands? I mean, the soundtrack is chock-full of techno. And grunge is basically heavy metal.  Think of it as Ratt in knitwear.

Other than screwing up the posters in Dade's room (someone clearly didn't inform the production designer that this is a pro-techno movie), Hackers manages to get everything else right. And fans of 1990s nostalgia will eat this shit up. However, angelheaded hipsters who feed off irony will have a difficult time making fun of this movie, as it eerily predicts the internet explosion years before it... well, exploded.

Of course, some might say that Lorraine Bracco's character's lack of tech savvy was an exaggeration. But her attitude was the norm in 1995. In all honesty, I'd say her viewpoint represented at least 99% of the North American population. Hell, even the secret service agent (Wendell Pierce) in charge of cyber-crime seemed to have no clue when it came to 'puters and the interweb.

Believe it or not, the characters played by Jonny Lee Miller (Dade, a.k.a. Zero Cool/Crash Override), Angelina Jolie (Kate, a.k.a. Acid Burn), Matthew Lillard (Emmanuel Goldstein, Jr., a.k.a. Cereal Killer), Swimfan's Jesse Bradford (Joey, a.k.a. Boy Meets World*), Laurence Mason (Nikon, a.k.a. Lord Nikon), Renoly Santiago (Phreak, a.k.a. The Fantom Phreak) and even Fisher Stevens (Eugene, a.k.a. The Plague), are pretty much life-size facsimiles of everyone currently living on the planet. And it's probably going to stay this way for quite some time, as I can't really see the genie being put back in the bottle. Unless, of course, the sun decides to hit the earth with an electromagnetic pulse, and it's bye-bye smartphone, hello pencil and notepad.

If the name "Fisher Stevens" seems out of place among the other names I mentioned, that's because he's not a roller-blading high school student who spends most his or her free time hanging out at Cyberdelia (the city's hippest hacker hang out). He's actually a skate-boarding hacker (with great taste in clothes) who works for a multinational corporation. I know, Lorraine Bracco mocks The Plague's fashion sense at one point in the film, but what can I say? I dug his style. Anyway, when Joey/Boy Meets World tries to impress his fellow hackers by hacking into the company The Plague provides cyber-security for, he finds himself labeled a terrorist by the authorities.

Meanwhile, Dade and Kate begin their exhaustive courtship of one another. Competitive about almost everything, Dade and Kate spend the bulk of the movie not fucking like rabid monkeys, but annoying each other. While these phony I hate you, I love you movie relationships are typically off-putting, I actually liked theirs. And besides, I loved how their initially meeting in cyberspace is set to The Prodigy's "Voodoo People."

From a technical point-of-view, I don't know how director Iain Softley managed to make the hacking scenes seem exciting. And the shots that take us inside "the matrix" were not as cornball as I thought they would be. Granted, none of it very realistic, but Hackers isn't a documentary. It's a slick techno-thriller that does the impossible, it redeems 1995. Oh, and, Happy [belated] Twentieth Anniversary, Hackers. May you continue to "Hack the Planet" for another twenty.

* Joey doesn't have a hacker handle (at least not officially), but I heard Phreak call him "Boy Meets World" at one point in the film. Which, and I think most people will agree, should totally be his hacker handle.

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