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Insulting Hackers wrongly typifies Internet heroes

Kate (Angelina Jolie) and Dade (Johnny Lee Miller) are renegade computer geniuses in Hackers


Directed by Iain Softley.

Written by Rafael Moreu.

Starring Johnny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, and Lorraine Bracco.

Sony Copley Place.

By A. Arif Husain
Associate News Editor

It's not uncommon for filmmakers to take advantage of audiences' fascination with stereotyped groups. Films like Backdraft or Top Gun take us inside the lives of select groups which may never cross our paths. Often, these pictures hope to glorify or venerate such groups. To this end, Hackers is director Iain Softley's latest contribution.

Exploring the world of the hacker (defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as a "computer buff"), we follow the life of Dade Murphy (Johnny Lee Miller) who establishes himself among the elite, frenetic computer-literate subculture by crashing 1,507 Wall street computers at the age of 11. Barred from using electronics until his 18th birthday, we rejoin Dade as he moves with his job-seeking single-mother to New York. Here, his technical expertise quickly land him in high standing with the local crew. The plot eventually develops into a struggle between the young hackers and the extortive corporate computer system administrator known as "The Plague." Played by Fisher Stevens, this villain plants a destructive computer virus, for which the youths are blamed.

In the face of danger, the hackers are propelled together, throttled by a developing romantic rivalry between Dade and the slick and wild Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie). The conflict between the two, which develops in a series of technical pranks, supports a few amusing skirmishes but was boring and typical. Likewise, the whole framing plot seemed contrived and disingenuous. We follow along a path designed solely to accommodate the characters, who are to enlighten our knowledge of "hacking."

Unfortunately, Softley failed to recognize a crucial flaw. Although invading computer systems, writing viruses, and cracking codes may seem curiously interesting to the average Joe, in reality it's all terribly dull stuff. As far as I am aware, the hacker culture (if in fact such a culture exists) is nothing like Softley wishes us to believe. Nor is there much room in the movie to convince us otherwise. As a result, Softley tries to create his own hacker stereotype: something of a misunderstood psychedelic rebel punk in search of knowledge and conquest on the global infobahn. In effect, it is a complete fabrication within itself.

To fill in the gaps, mathematical formulas swirl in multi-color, computer screens fill with textual garbage and an innumerable array of technical perverse idiosyncrasies. The characters often misuse jargon, and stress flashy catchwords which have little meaning without context. Like mystified children, we are expected to be turned on by these images and phrases, and we are expected to overlook their irrelevance.

Personally I was annoyed and insulted. Apparently either someone forgot to do his homework, or thought we wouldn't notice. Softley set out to expose the secret realm of the computer hacker. Instead he created a wholly insulting piece of work, which relies on fluffed-up hype.