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Blackhat **

Is it worth $10? No

What happened to Michael Mann? The director who gave us filet mignon with “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat” and “The Insider” is now serving us spam with “Blackhat,” which on paper should’ve been good but in reality absolutely, positively isn’t.

Overwritten and underwhelming, “Blackhat” should’ve been a taut cyber thriller, a movie of espionage and intrigue that’s very much a sign of our times. Instead it’s a cyber bore full of nonsense and the impossible, held together with a plot that’s denser than it needs to be and talk of soy trading and code analysis. It’s an action movie for the geeks in your I.T. department, not the public at large.

After a cyber attack at a Chinese power plant – which means someone hacked into the computer system and caused an explosion – Captain Chen (Leehom Wang) from Chinese intelligence is sent to work with the F.B.I. to find the attacker. With his network engineer sister Lien Chen (Wei Tang) in tow they liaise with F.B.I. Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), who’s untrusting and by the book.

Together they do what any joint Chinese/U.S. government intelligence venture would do: They release a cyber criminal named Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) from federal prison because apparently he’s the only person in the world who can read computer code. We’re supposed to like him because he doesn’t steal from people, only banks. If you’re thinking, “wow, this plot sounds really far-fetched and stupid” you’re right, it is. And not in a fun way. On the contrary, it has a distinct “we’re taking ourselves too seriously” vibe, which is consistent with Mann’s canon but doesn’t work here. A bit more levity is sorely needed in the interest of audience engagement.

Done differently and better, this would’ve been a fun thriller in which the audience gets to enjoy the ride of tracking down a new age criminal. The script by Morgan Davis Foehl (this is his first credited script) should’ve slowly built in suspense as Nick, Lien Chen and co. inch closer to the bad guys, but there are numerous odd detours along the way that overload the narrative with minutiae. More focus is required, and a quicker pace in the editing to keep interest at a premium.

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Alas, not even the visual effects are interesting. The first time the camera swoops us inside a computer and into its hardware it’s a clever way to see the virus spread; by the fourth time we’re over it and eager for something else. There are fight scenes, but they all feel forced – never before has a computer geek been as buff and brutal as Hemsworth, nor are we likely to see one like him again – and the shootouts lack the muster Mann has previously shown in “Heat” and other films.

Worse, the visuals are inundated by muted colors, rendering exotic locales such as Hong Kong and Jakarta looking basically the same as Los Angeles. This is an apt metaphor for the movie as well: Everything seems to blend together into a blur, nothing registers with distinction, and we’re left with a slow-moving 135-minute reason to nap.

Without a compelling narrative and actors who look like they actually want to be there, “Blackhat” completely disappoints. Even the sex scene is lame. There are certainly good movies to be made that are set in the world of cybercrime, but this isn’t one of them.

Did you know?

The nickname “blackhat” for cybercriminals is taken from Westerns, in which villains often wore black hats.

 

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