God gave men brains larger than dogs so they wouldn’t hump women’s legs at cocktail parties.
20 years ago, the world was introduced to the cyberpunk teen thriller Hackers. Jolt Cola, underground rollerblading, track balls, video gaming, and floppy discs never looked so cool. Nineties subculture is actually a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s refreshing to see computer geeks portrayed as the cool kids onscreen and not in a Revenge of the Nerds variety. In reality, your basic key board stroker does not make club appearances, rollerblading and skateboarding isn’t among daily activities away from the computer, and data does not appear as a video game.
The plot may turn a few heads but you have to remember that this was 1995. Our protagonist Dade Murphy (Johnny Lee Miller) has a unique past as one of the youngest hackers (using the handle Zero Cool) in history who single-handedly crashed the New York Stock Exchange when he was only eleven. Along with a hefty fine, he is forbidden to use a computer or a touch tone phone until his 18th birthday. Can you imagine? THE HORROR! Seven years pass and Dade already has a new computer where he continues his online shenanigans by hacking into a local television station, using the handle Crash Override. Through this journey, he’s royally “pwned” by another hacker going by the name Acid Burn who kicks him offline for invading his/her turf. Things don’t get any better for Dade as he’s lampooned by Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie) on his first day of school in New York. Dade soon discovers Kate is Acid Burn and he’s introduced to a group of young hackers. The notion that several gifted cyberpunks meet in the same school house is nearly implausible but in the world of movies, it works.
Our group of ‘elitists’ go by the names Cereal Killer, Lord Nikon, and The Phantom Phreak. I went through my own teenage hacking phase with the handle Vengeful Electra. The remainder of our group; Goat Desecration, Lesbian Carwash, Vomiting Cadaver, and Null Chamber… To name a few.
Any who, an aspiring hacker named Joey (Jesse Bradford) desperately wants to step up his game and prove to the guys that he’s elite. What’s a better way to wave your dick around by hacking into the system of a large corporation and saving a garbage file as proof? Unfortunately for Joey, that garbage file contains a Da Vinci virus that was created by the companies’ cybersecurity guru Eugene Belford (Fisher Stevens) who embarrassingly calls himself The Plague. It seems The Plague and his girlfriend Margo (Lorraine Bracco) intend to steal millions from their company by using a worm. This worm is practically unrecognizable but now that there’s an unknown hacker who copied proof of said worm, The Plague plans to place the blame on the young group of hackers. The only way to stop this skateboarding mega douche is to band hackers around the world together, two of which are the fashionable Asian twins who spend all their extra time broadcasting homemade “how to” hacking videos.
In between all of this chaos, Crash Override and Acid Burn have started a hacking war with each other. If Dade wins, Kate has to go on a date with him and wear a dress. If Kate wins, Dade becomes her slave. The sexual tension is so thick, you can smell it. This hacking war revolves around a secret service agent named Dick Gill, who really is a dick. This duo toys with Dick by cutting off his credit cards, giving him a police record, placing an ad for transvestites who make hilariously obscene phone calls, and finally…. they make him legally dead. I will refrain from spoiling the ending but it does end on a happy note.
The Plague created the Gibson which was a vector graphic OS GUI. This is not precisely what is being seen on the screen. With the hacker’s mind’s eye resting on an opposite plane from the ordinary computer user, programmers are able to view the design in ways that the rest are unable to. Of course it’s dressed up a little but in the 90s we were introduced to file system navigators, which was first seen on screen by the little girl in Jurassic Park who claims to be familiar with a UNIX system. The file manager never became fully functional.
The performances are satisfactory with strong characters. This is a film that succeeds in portraying a strong female lead that counterbalances sex appeal and intelligence. Kate Libby’s bold cut and androgynous style really pops and it works well with Dade’s aesthetic look. A pre-Scream Matthew Lillard as Cereal Killer is a performance to be celebrated. As usual, he nearly steals the show with his wacky sense of humor and scintillating presence. My only issue is The Plague. It’s hard to get past the absurdity of this character. There’s a scene where The Plague retrieves the incriminating floppy disc from Dade while he’s on a skateboard attached to a limo, it’s cheesy. He even rides around the office on a skateboard. Fisher Stevens is far from intimidating. I also cannot help but giggle every time he utters, “Never fear, I is here.” What a chode.
As for the cinematography, graphics, and imagery – Hackers was truly ahead of its time. The soundtrack is also a pleasant surprise with hardcore electronica tracks from Underworld, The Prodigy, and Orbital. Does the movie poorly portray hackers straight out of the late 80s and mid 90s? I wouldn’t say it’s a devastating portrayal but it’s close enough. If you can get past the dramatization, it’s actually a decent flick that never stops entertaining.
Here’s a fun fact: They created a promotional website for the film but it was hacked by a group that strongly protested the film. They drew all over the actor’s photos and replaced the tagline with, “this is going to be a lame, cheesy promotional site for a movie!”