Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang
Directed by: Michael Mann (“Heat,” “The Insider”)
Written by: Morgan Davis Foehl (debut)
Here it is, mid-January, and for the second year in a row we’re offered up another action thriller from a respected director at the box office. Last year we had the would-be franchise reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” from director Kenneth Branagh (coming off of the first “Thor” movie) and starring the handsome Chris Pine, left stranded by a studio who lost faith in the project along the way, dumping it in the dead of January to be mostly forgotten. This year, we have “Blackhat,” from acclaimed director Michael Mann (“Heat”) and starring Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. Mann alone commands attention, even if his past two films were lackluster, but along the way something must have fallen apart with “Blackhat” and it appears Universal decided to cut its losses.
As an impossibly hunky blackhat (read: bad guy) hacker, Hemsworth’s Nicholas Hathaway is introduced in prison being roughed up by guards and brought in front of the warden for hacking into the prison’s computer system (using a contraband cell phone that gave him a command line (!) as if the prison runs on DOS) to add money to fellow prisoners’ accounts. When a Chinese nuclear power plant is hacked, causing a near-meltdown, Chinese officer Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) and FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) arrange for Hathaway’s release. The reason: the malicious code the hacker is using is a derivation of a code written by Dawai and Hathaway, and together they’re the only ones who can track the hacker down before he hits an even bigger target.
Peppered with spots of horrible dubbing, inconsistent special effects, and musical cues that seem to drop in and out at random, “Blackhat” feels strangely abandoned, as if Mann and the studio didn’t bother to add any sort of polish to the final product, recognizing they had what ends up being a dumb, mid-level techno-action movie unworthy of the prestige crime drama reputation Mann has earned over the years. Filled with techno-babble that only half makes sense, hacking scenes that play out like video games, and boring special effects meant to represent what goes on inside a computer (spoiler: it looks dumb and is completely stupid) when a virus is unleashed, “Blackhat” relies too heavily on making Hemsworth an action-adventure hero hacking genius, hoping you don’t question why a furloughed convict would go on an international manhunt and participate in armed raids. Drag “Blackhat” to the recycle bin and pretend it never existed.