Friday, October 28, 2011

Hackers Wanted

Double-feature from Hell
Hackers and Wanted are both major-studio American movies released about 13 years apart (1995 and 2008 respectively), and they have a ridiculous number of things in common besides short, trochee titles:

- Both prominently feature Angelina Jolie
- Both focus on underground, outlaw anti-heroes
And I could go on by delving into the minutiae, but let’s cut to the chase
- Both are resoundingly terrible

Spoilers to follow as I really get into them, but trust me, I can’t ruin things that are already this bad, and if I prevent you from watching either I’m doing you a favor.

Funny enough (for Random Anecdote Friday, especially) another aspect both flicks have in common for me personally is that I can trace the reasons for watching both of them back to the same guy, one of my near and dear buddies. This would be the pal with whom I worked and carpooled for a few years, circa 2005 to 2007. One day at the office he and some of our fellow programmers were talking about the movie Hackers with the kind of slightly condescending nostalgia reserved for entertainments which seemed fairly cool at the time but might not 100% hold up after their moment had passed. I was left out of the conversation because I had never seen the film, but I added it to the top of my Netflix queue in order to remedy the situation.

And never having seen it before, watching it a decade later, plus having at least a rudimentary familiarity with things like internet security and whatnot (which was how Hackers came up at my place of business in the first place), I found it really, ridiculously absurdly bad. The attempts at (a) making hacking into a server look like a hyper-futuristic video game and (b) replicating the argot of this fringe subculture of quasi-anarchist kids all ended up as a perfect storm of nonsensical gibberish, and since I wasn’t buying any of that there was nothing to distract me from the fact that the fundamental plot of the movie itself is essentially incoherent and goes on and on forever. Taking it all in was a brain-bruising experience … and of course that meant I could not wait until the following day when I would have my buddy in the car on the ride to work, a captive audience whom I could regale with critiques of the film. Which is exactly how our morning commute began, and continued, until (in what I believe was the one and only time my friend ever said anything like this to me, including the time we took an all-nighter roadtrip to Orlando and basically exchanged life stories, though why we undertook that excursion is an anecdote for another day) my buddy told me in no uncertain terms to shut up. Not hurry up and get to the point, but stop talking about the movie immediately and change the subject or risk levels of violence usually associated with permanent injury. So yeah, Hackers is so bad that a portion of the explication of its badness could just about drive a man insane.

Wanted was one of three movies that same buddy loaned me on Blu-Ray so that I could have something to watch on the Blu-Ray player he gave me for my birthday. To his credit, when I asked him if it was any good, he pointedly said nothing more than “It looks amazing in hi-def.” I was therefore still skeptical but my buddy had made a deal with me on my birthday, since he knows I have a tendency to build up huge backlogs of entertainment I keep meaning to consume: all I had to do was watch one of the three movies in the next month (which happens to end on Halloween) and I would continue to enjoy access to borrowing Blu-Rays in the future. Otherwise I would be cut-off. So since my wife was working late Wednesday night and there wasn’t much on tv and both kids were asleep early, I watched Wanted. And yes, absolutely the best thing I can say about it is that it has a certain visual appeal during various setpieces. But it doesn’t make a lick of freakin’ sense.

You might recall that not too long ago I was praising the G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra movie even though, or perhaps because, it makes no sense, so this may seem like an abrupt reversal. But G.I. Joe at least had the decency to embrace its own cheesiness and allow itself to unfurl as a gloriously philosophy-free series of improbable events which looked really cool and blew stuff up. My major beef with Wanted is that it tries to infuse its ultraviolent kaleidoscope of kewl and its pseudo-plot connective tissue with some kind of commentary on modern life. And it fails miserably.

One more difference between Hackers and Wanted is that I watched the first one before I had a blog, and the second one after. So whereas in the past the only way I could grapple with the storm of thoughts which truly terrible cinema can set off in my brain is by talking it to death with a friend (and testing the limits of said friendship in the process), now if I really need to pick apart a celluloid debacle I can do it right here and when people get bored they don’t even have to be confrontational about it, they can just blithely surf away. And given that freedom, I’m deciding at this point to hold off on over-analyzing Wanted until some time next week, because I really think it’s going to be a longish post in and of itself and this one’s pushing a thousand words already. So be forewarned!

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