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"BLACKHAT"
(2014) (Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramatic Thriller: A furloughed computer hacker teams with his old roommate from MIT to help the Americans and the Chinese track down a ruthless cyber-criminal.
PLOT:
When an enigmatic cyber-terrorist named Sadak (YORICK VAN WAGERNINGEN) hacks a Chinese nuclear plant and causes a meltdown, China's government enlists the aid of computer genius Chen Dawai (LEEHOM WANG) to find him before he strikes again. Because the attack bears the signature of an earlier hack in the United States that failed, Chen travels to America to furlough his former MIT classmate, Nicholas Hathaway (CHRIS HEMSWORTH), from prison to help him.

Their team includes Chen's sister, Lien (WEI TANG), the only person Chen truly trusts; Carol Barrett (VIOLA DAVIS), an FBI agent who lost her husband on Sept. 11; and her partner, Mark Jessup (HOLT McCALLANY). Their investigation takes them to China, Indonesia, and Malaysia and eventually leads them to a cold-blooded European hoodlum named Kassar (RITCHIE COSTER) with ties to Sadak.

Along the way, Hathaway and Lien fall for each other. But their romance is interrupted when Hathaway takes it upon himself to hack the National Security Agency's mainframe to steal a top-secret software program that will greatly assist them in their search. Tragedy eventually strikes the team, and Hathaway is suddenly placed in a position where he might be the only one who can stop the next big cyber attack.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Let's just address the obvious right away, shall we? Is it ridiculous that Chris Hemsworth, Thor himself, is playing Nicholas Hathaway, one of the world's top computer hackers in the new movie "Blackhat?" Yes, of course, it is. Now, are there computer hackers out there who are tall, handsome, with washboard abs and chiseled good lucks? I am sure there are. I'm sure--

Oh, come on! No, of course, there aren't! We can generalize for once, can't we? There's not a single computer hacker alive today who looks like the Norse God of Lightning, the Prince of Asgard, the mightiest of the Mighty Avengers! Computer hackers don't look like Thor. They look like Arvid from "Head of the Class." But although I am sure actor Dan Frischman was available at the time director Michael Mann was casting his new cyber thriller, the studio prevailed and said, "Uh, Mikey. We need to go with a stud."

You know, Mann could have gone with pretty much any of the other Avengers, and this movie would have worked better. Robert Downey Jr. would have killed as an imprisoned hacker furloughed to aid in a joint U.S.-Chinese search for the master cyber criminal who hacked into a Shanghai nuclear reactor and caused a meltdown. Mark Ruffalo would have been superb. Jeremy Renner would have been an interesting third choice. But Hemsworth? No way.

Unfortunately, "Blackhat" has more problems than just a miscast lead. The film is awash in Mann's slick, signature visual style depicting a neon-lit world where morally conflicted, yet highly skilled people on both sides of the law engage in a battle of wits. This time around, though, there is not much of a rooting interest. The good guys are dull and almost completely devoid of charisma and even energy, while the bad guys are sneering, one-note, homicidal moustache twirlers who ultimately just want to strike it rich. There is none of the complexity of, say, "Heat," where the audience ended up rooting for both Robert DeNiro's last-score bank robber and Al Pacino's world-weary police detective.

There's nothing great at stake in "Blackhat" either. Not enough of the human toll is shown from the lead crook's cyber attacks -- in addition to the power plant attack, he also engineers a major stock market score -- to make us hate him. Then, we ultimately learn that his endgame plot is to simply corner a particular commodities market that will make you go, "Really? Is that what he wants to do? Really?!" OK, I'm just gonna give it away. Sorry. He wants to corner the tin market. Tin!

Mann, almost aware that this is pretty preposterous, then just turns the film into a simple bloody revenge tale in its final act. But it's too little, too late, especially when we've seen revenge better served in recent months by the likes of "The Equalizer" and "John Wick." Of course, this is after Hathaway has gone on the run throughout Asia, and we're asked to believe that no one can see this 6'4" Norse God laughably walking amongst the populace. I say "laughably," because most of the time Hathaway is on the run, he wears ... and I kid you not ... sunglasses. The flowing locks, the chiseled jaw, the open shirts revealing the muscle pecs ... heck, the fact that he is a gigantic Caucasian ... nope, can't find him. He's blended in.

On the positive side, the film is an ambitious travelogue with major action set pieces taking place in China, Indonesia, and Malaysia punctuated with stops back in America (specifically New York and Chicago). Viola Davis does the best she can with a sadly underwritten role of FBI Agent Carol Barrett, assigned to oversee the U.S. side of the manhunt and keep Hathaway and his Chinese best friend and fellow computer whiz Chen (Leehom Wang) in line.

Overall, though, "Blackhat" never builds any sustained dramatic momentum. If it weren't for the credited "Directed by Michael Mann," I'd say THIS was a hack job! I also say this rates no better than a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed January 13. 2015 / Posted January 16, 2015


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