Hacking: it certainly seems like a timely subject for a film, especially with the recent controversy over hacking at Sony Pictures that saw The Interview temporarily pulled from theaters. It’s also a subject that Hollywood has never seemed to be able to crack as a central part of a film, in part because it’s usually treated with as much flash and pizzazz as possible to distract from the fact that someone’s typing on a computer somewhere.

To give credit where it’s due, Michael Mann stages the hacking sequences in Blackhat with a look that appears legitimate on-screen, not the conjuring of special effects guys without a grasp of real-world computing. Unfortunately, the act of hacking isn’t all that exciting to begin with, so the film adds in financial fraud, international political team-ups and action scenes to spice things up. The result is a film that stretches well over two hours, while feeling like its approaching four.

The film opens on a hacker first creating a meltdown at a nuclear plant in China, then making a run on soybean futures on the international market. These incidents force the US and Chinese governments to team up, which in turn leads to a partnership with an imprisoned hacker named Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth). Of course, when you have Chris Hemsworth as your hacker, he’s far more physically adept than your standard hacker. He’s also totally unconvincing.

A large part of that comes from the way the film is set up. The dialogue is incredibly stiff, and as talented as the supporting cast assembled is, only Viola Davis comes close to pulling off her lines. The rationale for the mystery that the film tries to solve is flat-out stupid. On top of that, the action is gratuitous and unnecessary. As the film’s body count increases, the ways in which characters go out become so strange yet obvious that it’s hard not to laugh.

January is notorious as a dumping ground for films that studios don’t believe will work in more competitive times. I have to imagine that the combination of Hemsworth, Mann and some of the other talent involved here sounded promising on paper, but the final product is a mess that squarely fits into the stereotype of January films. It’s a shame, but at least Blackhat is out of the way.

Blackhat • Rating: R (for violence and some language) • Runtime: 133 minutes • Genres: Drama, Action • Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang • Director: Michael Mann • Writer: Morgan Davis Foehl • Distributor: Universal

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