Cool scenes can’t save Mann’s messy ‘Blackhat’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 16, 2015 10:29am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Given a junky script and inert lead actors, director Michael Mann does what he can with “Blackhat.” The result is an occasionally intoxicating mess of a movie.

It’s about a world-class hacker. Which means the whole thing takes place as he sits at his keyboard and never leaves his parents’ basement.

Just kidding. However, it is never explained why our hero needs to traipse across half of Asia if he’s supposedly a genius hacker who can re-wire a financial system through his smartphone.

Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) begins the movie in prison for past hack attacks. Sprung by an international plan to catch a cyber-terrorist responsible for shutting down a Chinese nuclear reactor, Nick joins a skeptical FBI agent (the great Viola Davis, who has a few signature moments) and a Chinese lawman named Chen (Leehom Wang, a cool singer-actor) on the case.

Chen, an old school friend of Nick’s, has already brought his sister Lien (Wei Tang, from “Lust, Caution”) onto the team. Why? Well, he tells her he needs a collaborator he can completely trust, although we might suspect it’s because the movie needs someone with whom Nick can exchange smoldering glances.

So Nick does a lot of typing, which is always fun to watch. There’s plenty of action, though, punctuated by druggy, weirdly-paced scenes of dialogue.

You might have to listen hard to hear some of that dialogue, because Mann has mixed the soundtrack in such a way that many things drift off into murmurs. Yet somehow I don’t think I missed much.

The story is full of logistical whoppers (why, when the bad guys are shooting off their automatic weapons, would you stop your car in the middle of the street nearby and get out to return fire?), but after a while this hardly matters. Because Michael Mann is too busy making his version of a Hong Kong flick to care.

Mann’s “Collateral” and “Heat” are examples of top-line Hollywood action movies. He’s entranced by urban neon, and smoky skies, and crowd scenes, all captured on slick hi-def video.

At least a half-dozen scenes in “Blackhat” are incredibly cool to watch, especially when the characters aren’t talking. The climax, in the midst of hundreds of worshippers at a religious festival, is delirious (although I’m not sure the film really notices all the innocent bystanders who get mowed down).

If you’re a fan of Mann’s work, you’ll probably get in the zone. If not, the ludicrous plotting and Chris Hemsworth will likely be obstacles. I don’t object to a genius hacker being played by Thor — that’s what movie stars are for — but it would be nice if something occasionally animated Hemsworth’s wooden features.

“Blackhat” (2.5 stars)

An occasionally intoxicating mess from director Michael Mann, about a genius hacker (wooden Chris Hemsworth) traipses around Asia in search of a cyber-terorrist. Amid the junky dialogue and illogical plotting, there are scenes of incredible coolness scattered here.

Rating: R, for violence, language

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium 14, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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