With Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang. Written by Morgan Davis Foehl, Leehom Wang, John Ortiz. Directed by Michael Mann. Rated R for violence and some language. 133 minutes.
There are two sorts of people who will find BLACKHAT entertaining. First are the Michael Mann fans who are so enamored of the director (“Thief,” “Heat,” “Collateral”) that the fact that the acting is wooden and the script not much better is besides the point. These fans will go on and on raving about the framing for this shot and the lighting for that shot without be able to tell you why you should care.
Then there are the others folks who will find this a riveting thriller that kept them on the edge of their seats. They are the IT (information technology) people who work at your place of business. Scenes of people tapping keyboards, inspecting computer hardware, and examining programming code will seem highly dramatic to them… and almost no one else.
The film opens with an interesting premise. Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is behind bars because he’s a master computer criminal. Now another such cyber-villain has hacked into the computers at a Chinese nuclear reactor and caused a meltdown. Similar attacks leaves Chinese and American authorities wondering who it is and what his motives are. Enter Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), a computer expert who proposes reaching out to the Americans and working together to find the culprit. He demands Hathaway–with whom he has a history–be released to work with him.
So far, so good, although Mann’s idea of following data through computer systems leaves you thinking he’s worn out his VHS tape of “Tron.” As the case takes them to Hong Kong and Jakarta, the story gets murky. Chen’s sister (Wei Tang) becomes involved, supposedly as another computer ace but clearly to be the love interest for Hathaway. There’s FBI agents (including a wasted Viola Davis) who are keeping track of Hathaway, who is supposedly on “furlough” from his prison sentence.
The movie provides two or three action scenes to keep viewers not engaged by the computer antics awake. Of course, the mystery is seeing who all these violent underlings are working for as well as his ultimate goal. When it’s finally revealed, it is anticlimactic. Let’s put it this way: we’re not talking Goldfinger knocking over Fort Knox.
Hemsworth is a buff action figure who made his name playing “Thor,” but showed he could act in “Rush.” Working with a big name director was a strategic career move, but unfortunately Mann treats him as little more than an action figure, albeit without the magic hammer. The rest of the cast appear to have more talent than the cardboard cutouts they get to play, but they don’t get much opportunity to show any of it.
“Blackhat” is the typical non-Oscar contender that gets released in January. It’s got some exploitable elements and isn’t expected to remain in theaters very long. In that sense–and in that sense only–it succeeds.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.