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By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 15, 1995


Iain Softley
Jonny Lee Miller;
Angelina Jolie;
Jesse Bradford;
Matthew Lillard;
Laurence Mason;
Fisher Stevens
computer-game violence and (virtual) sexual situations

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HERE'S THE FIRST dilemma facing anyone making a teen-action-adventure-romance movie about computer nerds: How do you make typing look exciting?

The makers of "Hackers," a wild, wired ride with a gang of cybercowboys—the heroes of the next millennium—manage to get around this little glitch. Their solution: Sensory Overload. There's still lots of hangtime (shots of fingers flying over keyboards, eyes illuminated by an LCD glow, screen-filling text files and torrents of incomprehensible computer jargon), but it's all been dressed up with dazzling gusts of MTV hyperediting, "Wired" magazine colors, enormous video game imagery, anarchic attitude and a continuously pulsing rave-inspired soundtrack.

You could dance to this movie.

In the energized prologue set in Seattle 1988, a cadre of armed Federal agents bash in the doors of a tranquil suburban Seattle home and bust a dangerous hacker named Zero Cool, who completely crashed 1,507 computer systems (including those on Wall Street) in one day.

Zero Cool, a k a Dade Murphy, is 11 years old. His sentence: "not to own a computer or touchtone phone until age 18."

Of course, you know that as soon as this kid is legal, his mom will buy him a computer for his 18th birthday, and he'll be hacking away before the candles are blown out.

(Mom: "Dade, what are you doing?" Dade: "Taking over a TV network." Mom: "Finish up, honey, and get some sleep—happy birthday!")

As the film begins, Dade (bland, Bambi-eyed Jonny Lee Miller) is the new kid in a New York City high school; these scenes play like "My So-Called Life" hybridized with "Re-boot." After enduring (and returning) some very creative hazing, Dade soon finds his way into a band of "elite" hackers, a rather cuddlesome corps of "Nintendo generation" geniuses, who enjoy tapping into phone networks, messing with people's credit ratings, and selling bootleg compilation tapes of "great artists who asphyxiated on their own vomit."

There are on-line handles, of course: Phantom Phreak, the androgynous, wily "King of NYNEX"; Cereal Killer (imagine Ed Norton as a Deadhead); Lord Nikon, who has a photographic memory and dresses himself from the "Star Wars 3" catalogue; and Joey, an overeager kid hacker, who hasn't earned a handle yet.

And then there's Kate (Angelina Jolie), a k a ace hacker Acid Burn, a heavy-lidded morphing of Madonna and Phoebe Cates with maybe a tweak or two of Joan Jett and Tank Girl. Ah, teen romance in the late '90s: Dade beats Kate at a wall-sized video game in a club called Cyberdelia, and makes "an enemy for life."

The storyline is as complicated as a circuit board. Let's just say that Joey (Jesse Bradford) accidentally hacks his way into a megacorporation's megacomputer, and downloads a "garbage file" containing something Secret. Fronted by Dade, who awes everyone when he reveals he is the legendary Zero Cool, the hackers enlist an international "Hack the Planet" legion of compukids to battle the forces of industrial evil, led by a grown-up, sold-out hacker called The Plague (Bill Murray + Dennis Miller = Fisher Stevens).

"Hackers" separates the tech-savvy boys from the lost-in-cyberspace men. Really—the movie may be too fast and confusingly jargon-choked for everyone but Netsurfers and Webheads.

But who knows? Maybe you'll learn a thing or two. Like the four most commonly used passwords (love, sex, secret and God). And how stupid you really look playing one of those virtual reality games.

HACKERS (PG-13) — Contains computer-game violence and (virtual) sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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