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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 15, 1995


Iain Softley
Jonny Lee Miller;
Angelina Jolie;
Jesse Bradford;
Matthew Lillard;
Laurence Mason;
Fisher Stevens
Under 17 restricted

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"Hackers," the new information highway thriller, is tirelessly modish, hyper-glossy, super-superficial. It's also cacophonous. And, for all of its drum-beating for brain power, dumb.

Directed by Iain Softley, the young British filmmaker who made such a thrilling debut with "BackBeat," this story about a group of high school computer punks who stumble onto plans for a $25 million computer crime has a jittery, arrhythmic pulse. It's wired, like most of its Jolt-guzzling characters. And at first, the film's high energy, Andrzej Sekula's iridescent cinematography and John Beard's drop-dead gorgeous production design are flashy and seductive.

So, too, are the lead characters—so cool and sexy they resemble a new race of ravishing, skateboarding cyber-supermodels. Dade (Jonny Lee Miller) is the new kid on the block, and when he first sees Kate (Angelina Jolie) at school, he immediately adds her to his list of favorite things.

Up until now, most of Dade's life has been devoted to computers. As a boy he became legendary in hacker circles as Zero Cool, the 9-year-old brat who managed to crash 1,507 systems in one day. As punishment, a judge pronounced that Dade would not be able to own a computer—or even a touch-tone telephone—until his 18th birthday.

Kate, whose lips are so pouty and bee-stung that they seem about to explode, has put a kink in Dade's priorities. And for the first third or so of the film, these two beautifully sculpted creatures circle each other, pretending to be arch enemies. Then Joey (Jesse Bradford) accidentally downloads an illegal program designed by Eugene, a k a the Plague (Fisher Stevens), the head of security for a major corporation. The teenage adversaries band together—along with their friends Cereal Killer (Matthew Lillard) and Lord Nikon (Laurence Mason)—to expose the real criminal.

From this point on, the movie disintegrates into a tedious game of "who's got the disk," a standard thriller with a cyberpunk background. By this stage, too, Softley's vision of the future begins to look more and more like a Duran Duran video. The filmmakers are keen on inside jokes—the huge master computer Joey penetrates is called a "Gibson" in homage to hacker poet laureate William Gibson—and they have paid great attention to the details of the hackers' universe; it's like the pages of Mondo 2000 magazine come to life. But if the film's particulars are futuristic, the story line is primeval, with Stevens and Lorraine Bracco, as the Plague's corporate boss, trapped in cartoonish villain roles.

As its stars, Miller and Jolie seem just as one-dimensional—except that, in their case, the effect is intentional. They're not characters, these two, they're heroic icons of the coming millennium—sleek, androgynous and insubstantial as ghosts.

Hackers is rated PG-13.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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