‘Blackhat’: System failure

January 14, 2015

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Here’s my first problem with Michael Mann’s “Blackhat”:

Chris Hemsworth doesn’t have the talent to make me believe he’s smart enough to be an MIT-educated, world-class computer hacker.

As I watched him, I kept wondering what a real actor – Mark Ruffalo or Edward Norton, say – would have done with this role. Of course, they’d be harder to buy as MMA-slinging warriors capable of taking out a squad of goons single-handedly. 

But even a real actor couldn’t have done much with Morgan Foehl’s script, which is a mix of talky exposition and gun battles, the lowest form of cinematic action. Lord knows Mann tries, overlaying everything with the kind of droney synthesizer score he’s favored since he used Tangerine Dream in “Thief” 30-some years ago.

The script has the frisson of topicality: Someone is wreaking major havoc by hacking seemingly secure computer systems. But it’s not the North Koreans and they aren’t upset about “The Interview.” The plotting, however, is strictly cookie-cutter, a formula that emphasizes its own weaknesses.

Leaving Hemsworth aside, we never learn anything about a mysterious “blackhat,” an anonymous villain who initially seems to be creating chaos simply for the hell of it. But the reveal at the end about who he is and why he’s doing this is flat and anticlimactic. Greed is almost less interesting than gunfights.

If you can’t care about – or worry about – the bad guy, what’s left? Not much as it turns out. Hemsworth happens to be the key to everything, rescued from prison by Chen (Leehom Wang), a Chinese military computer expert who luckily was Hemsworth’s college roommate. For no apparent reason beyond padding the running time, Hemsworth launches a torrid romance with Chen’s sister, who also happens to be a ninja-level geek. Blah blah blah: There’s too much pointless chatter – of dialogue, of gunfire – and too little worth listening to.

Mann is a formidable stylist, who’s made some great films (“The Insider,” “Last of the Mohicans”) but, more recently, some terrible ones (“Miami Vice,” “Public Enemies”). Here, style is all he has to fall back on.

As a result, “Blackhat” is a cyber-thriller that’s distinctly short on thrills, not to mention credibility.

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