I’m no technical genius, but I even I know better than to click on a mysterious link or attachment contained in an e-mail telling me that I need to reset my password. Even one that appears to come from my boss. (Maybe especially one that appears to come from my boss.)
And yet this is exactly what happens at a critical moment in “Blackhat,” when a high-ranking National Security Agency official falls for this entry-level spoofing attack, inadvertently handing a hacker the keys to the NSA’s legendary “Black Widow” supercomputer. The hacker then uses Black Widow to piece together a tangle of corrupted data that will, we have been led to believe, save the world, though from what or from whom is unclear.
“Now we wait,” whispers the hunky Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, playing the nerd love child of Jason Bourne and Sherlock Holmes), as an explosion of pretty colors fans across his computer screen.
Oh, dear God.
I’m not sure what the biggest problem is in this unthrilling thriller about an imprisoned cyber-criminal who is let out of jail in order to track down the mastermind behind a pair of computer attacks — one on a Chinese nuclear power plant and the other on Chicago’s soybean futures market.
Maybe it’s the lame dialogue: “When this is over, what will you do?” asks Hathaway’s love interest, Lien (Wei Tang), in just one of many cliches reheated by first-time screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl, whose script is a smorgasbord of romance and action-movie leftovers, smothered under a gravy of incomprehensible techno-speak.
It could simply be the film’s pervasive preposterousness. In addition to that ridiculous NSA scene, director Michael Mann stages the overlong film’s climactic showdown in the middle of a crowd of thousands, none of whom betrays any reaction to the presence of a crazed gunman (Ritchie Coster) until he actually starts shooting.
Maybe the open-carry laws are different in Jakarta. At least I think it was Jakarta. Between the United States, China, Malaysia and other far-flung locales, the film logs some serious frequent-flyer miles.
“Blackhat” is also one of the most visually unattractive movies I’ve ever seen. Seemingly shot on a shaky smartphone, Mann’s blurry, jerkily edited digital video is hard to read, especially during action sequences. I’m not sure what exactly happened during a chaotic fight in a Chinese restaurant between Hathaway and some goons working for the film’s Dr. Evil, except that Hathaway and Lien somehow manage to walk away from it. Beyond his mad computer skills, Hathaway is very good at throwing things: Fists, tables — even a van at one point — go flying through the air here.
What’s more, the film is painfully loud, between a barrage of overamplified sound effects and a booming if unmemorable score (one of whose three composers has since disavowed his work on the film). There’s actually a scene where Hathaway and Lien can’t hear each other, and have to move to another location just to be understood.
Speaking of comprehension, the film is riddled with logic holes having to do with, say, the dramatically convenient timing of a car bomb — it kills a supporting actor, but spares the stars — and the fact that Hathaway, despite wearing an ankle bracelet, seems to have been given an absurdly long leash by his FBI handler (Viola Davis).
She’s the absolute the best thing about “Blackhat.” Other than a couple of brief CGI sequences in which Mann succeeds in visualizing our dependence on computer technology by zooming in on the vaguely “Tron”-like microcircuits and electrical connections that increasingly control our contemporary wired society, Davis is the film’s only pleasure.
Based on her performance alone, I’d be willing to give “Blackhat” a single pity star. But because she’s in the film so briefly, I’m going to have to take back half.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence, brief sensuality and obscenity. 133 minutes.