1995, Movie, PG-13, 104 mins


Guaranteed to intimidate the Net-phobic, Iain Softley's glossy techno-thriller is a celebration of cyberspace as contact high. The tedious reality of dirty streets and cramped apartments can't compare to the computer-generated brave new world of HACKERS, where numbers swirl and shimmy like fireflies, images flicker and transform, and identities are infinitely mutable.

Enter our heroes, the hackers: Zero Cool/Crash Override (Jonny Lee Miller), Acid Burn (Angelina Jolie), Cereal Killer (Matthew Lillard), Lord Nikon (Laurence Mason), Phantom Phreak (Renoly Santiago) and poor little Joey (Jesse Bradford), who hasn't yet proved himself worthy of a showy handle. With the exception of Nikon (in his 30s and apparently jobless, he may strike some viewers as a man with too many underage friends), they're all high school students whose computer skills are far more developed than their sense of how the real world works. They live for the fun of breaking into computer systems and goosing the grown-ups, and they're genuinely shocked when they get slapped for impertinence instead of praised for bravado.

Zero Cool -- real name: Dade Murphy -- has been slapped the hardest. Having crashed a record 1,507 computers, he's been sentenced to abstain from hacking until the age of 18. This, of course, is like ordering a randy adolescent to abstain from self-abuse. Dade's long-suffering mother (Alberta Watson) moves them to New York City, where he takes a new name and hooks up with a like-minded gang of pranksters, only to find himself in the middle of a corporate conspiracy masterminded by snotty turncoat The Plague (Fisher Stevens). Plague -- real name: Eugene Belford -- has sold out to the loathsome Ellingson Mineral Corp., where he heads computer security and is embezzling millions electronically. Joey downloads part of Plague's secret program and gets himself and his friends in big trouble.

HACKERS has a fabulous look, articulating the hackers' vision of the world as a massive, kandy-kolored komputer system just waiting to be invaded. The Manhattan skyline is transformed into a glowing circuit board; buildings metamorphose into lustrous high-tech obelisks; and the sun rises and sets with furious speed. It's an absolutely glorious conception, perfectly supported by a mesmerizing score.

The movie's notion of the real world is a bit iffier. In HACKERS, keyboard cowboys (and cowgirls) inhabit a techno-cocoon in which they're free to spend their nights hacking and clubbing, and their days plotting ever cooler computer conquests. It's all grittily glamorous, which is fine as long as we're not expected to take it seriously. The hackers' manifesto (which is read aloud scornfully by a fascistic FBI agent) is an idealistic, one-world dream of free information and racial harmony. While laudable, it doesn't quite ring true in real life.

Still odder is the movie's sexual worldview, which is simultaneously infantile and fetishistic. Boys wear rubber, lipstick, and spandex, but don't seem to have a sexual bone in their unmuscled bodies. Have these kids truly sublimated all their hormonal urges into messing around with the Internet? Only babelicious geek girl Acid Burn -- real name: Kate Libby -- seems aware of her own sexuality, in the teen-movie tradition of girls imbued with wisdom beyond their years.

Lorraine Bracco has the film's most thankless role, playing an abrasive corporate publicist who doesn't seem smart enough to handle a multiline phone system, let alone appreciate the potential of Eugene's scheme. Her primary function? To be the technophobe who, by asking dumb questions about how all this stuff works, ensures that everything gets explained in nice, simple terms. Even if you bought DOS for Dummies, there's nothing in HACKERS that will stretch your brain. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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