In the wake of the Sony corporate hacking mess and the constant rumbles of much worse to come, could the timing be any better for a Michael Mann-directed alpha male thriller about the hunt for a vicious cyber terrorist? So, along comes Blackhat written by Morgan Davis Foehl and directed by the man who invented Miami Vice and also set the bar sky high for intelligent action epics with The Insider, Collateral, and Heat. That career dossier leads us to expect something smart, sexy, tense, dense, cutting edge, brilliantly acted and rippling with paranoia and topical intrigue. Blackhat is none of these.
In fact, it’s clunky, plodding, talky, clumsily written — a strictly routine action flick throwaway that, for diehard Mann fans and apologists alike, could be a cause for alarm, let alone depression. Leading man Chris Hemsworth lays down his mighty Thor hammer to star as an often-shirtless genius computer hacker who gets sprung from a 15-year federal prison stint to help hunt down a phantom menace up to dangerous pranks like heating up a Hong Kong nuclear reactor and sparking a run on soy futures in the stock market.
Even with crack intel from the hero’s brainy old friend and roomie from MIT (Leehom Wang), the trail for the shadowy villain leads to China, Indonesia, and Malaysia and other landscapes suitable for the patented Mann visual whoop-de-doo that goes heavy on fluorescent skies and showy shots of speedboats zooming across cerulean bays — all, unfortunately, shot on video that sometimes looks like an old rental copy of Miami Vice played on your dad’s vintage VCR.
Of course, if you can buy the bronzed, buff Hemsworth as a computer wiz and a true white hat, well, then, you can accept pretty much anything. But why did Mann let his blandly macho, decorative Australian star get away with incomprehensible muttering and unrelenting surliness? Of course, his MIT friend’s sister (played by Wei Tang of Lust, Caution) joins him in the hunt and, strictly for plot purposes, falls in love with him.
But, look, this movie is so misjudged on every possible level, so plagued by flatfooted (and unflaggingly pro-Chinese) dialogue and we’re-making-this-up-as-we-go-along plotting that it practically invites unintentional laughs along with head-smacking and eye-rolling. Viola Davis (the best thing in the movie as a CIA agent), Wei Tang, and Mann regular John Ortiz get stuck doing a lot of heavy lifting and the villain’s schemes are so silly and preposterous that the moviemakers don’t appear able to make up their minds whether they’re doing a Bourne, a Bond, or something you drum up after too many bong hits. This thing is all style, color, design, and pose with zero underneath. If that’s enough for you, hey, knock yourself out. At 135 minutes, Blackhat feels hours longer.