Saturday, January 17, 2015



Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang, Viola Davis

Rated R for Violence and Some Language

Ah, January...the time of year when all of the Oscar hopefuls have been released and the theaters are empty of people wanting a break from their holiday shopping, hyperactive kids or squabbling relatives (and if they're really unlucky, all three).  It's the perfect time to release a movie like "Blackhat," a movie that had potential, but turned out to be more rotten than week old stinky cheese.

What's really strange is that this comes from director Michael Mann.  Mann is no hack director, having been behind two very good movies ("The Insider" and "Collateral") and a certified masterpiece ("Heat").  Mann has been in a bit of a slump lately, not having done anything memorable since the Tom Cruise/Jamie Foxx thriller.  "Blackhat," his first film since "Public Enemies" in 2009, does nothing to change that.  In fact, it's just as bad as "Manhunter."

It's a pity, too, since the film has a lot of potential.  Technology is everywhere, and we have only just realized how much in the open we all are.  It takes a lot of work to really prevent someone from finding out your most intimate secrets.  A movie that could tap into that fear would certainly be a terrifying experience, but sadly, Mann gives us a lame, globe-trotting mess that's closer to "Mercury Rising" than "The Net."

The plot only occasionally makes sense, which is probably for the best because when it does, you realize how absurd it all is.  I'm always more than willing to suspend my disbelief for a movie unless it crosses the line, and I set the bar pretty high.  It's not as ludicrous as last year's monstrosity "God's Not Dead," but it comes close.

A nuclear reactor at a Chinese power plant unexpectedly malfunctions, and while a total meltdown is averted, more than a dozen are dead and many more are injured.  Soon after, the US Commodities market is rigged and an unknown person walks away with $70 million.  A Chinese agent named Dawai (Wang) realizes that not only were both incidents the result of hacks, they came from the same program that he created years ago as a joke with his roommate, Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth), who is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for computer crimes.  It's been modified, and to track down the perpetrator, he needs Hathaway's help.  So in exchange for commuting his sentence if he finds the culprit, Nick, Dawai, Dawai's sister Lien (Tang) and Hathaway's handler Carol Barrett (Davis) follow the clues before the real trouble starts.

This movie just sucks.  Not only is the plot a mess, it's badly acted, and the cast is compromised of actors who are reliable or have shown talent in the past.  Chris Hemsworth's talents are limited, but with the right role and the right director, he can do excellent work (he deserved, but did not get, an Oscar nomination for his work as James Hunt in "Rush").  But here, he's so one-note that it's hard to believe that it's the same guy.  "Stiff" doesn't begin to describe the work of Wei Tang, which is odd, since she was wonderful in Ang Lee's NC-17 rated "Lust, Caution."  Leehom Wang, who also starred in Lee's film, blends into the background.  As for Viola Davis...well, if you can make her look like a bad actress, then something is really wrong.

Had I not known that this was directed by Michael Mann, I never would have guessed.  There's little style or beauty in the film.  Mann has a gift for making every day life look incredible (see "Heat"), but "Blackhat" is painfully generic.  The only trademark of Mann's is the realistic gunplay, which is realistically staged except for the film's biggest firefight, where he goes over-the-top.

The film feels unfinished.  The sound quality fades in and out, the score is generic and underused, and the film lacks an editor who knows what he's doing.  Someone should have realized long before it was released that this film was headed in a bad direction and pulled the plug.

Mike.  Buddy.  What were you thinking?

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