Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Hackers.”
The Movie: “Hackers”
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Jesse Bradford
Director: Iain Softley
Plot Summary: (From Rotten Tomatoes) After breaking into the computers of a massive oil company, a group of teenage hackers uncovers evidence of a wide-ranging embezzling scheme. Their intrusion is discovered and they must rally to find proof and save themselves before they are captured by the police in this techno-thriller.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 32 percent
Brown: With Sports Month in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for us Joes to go back to one of the three pillars of the JOE-DOWN.
There’s ‘80s action movies. There’s the John Travolta filmography.
And, there’s movies that remind you that the ‘90s were a dumb, dumb time. That’s where we’re at today with “Hackers.”
Now, I don’t remember a lot about this one. Never saw it. Movie came out when I was 9 years old. I recalled this being a movie that gave the world Matthew Lillard (a far cry acting-wise to someone like Michael Caine like we saw last week in “Victory.”
This movie… was something. It was definitely a stark reminder that Hollywood never has and never will understand youth culture. But I am always fascinated by how movies missed the mark so badly on representing technology and how the internet and hacking actually work.
Plus, as we’ll discuss in due time, ‘90s movies seem to have a real obsession with the plot from “Superman 3.”
Froemming, since this movie came out when you were coming of age, give our audience a taste of what you remember from “Hackers.”
Froemming: This was actually a movie I never got around to seeing. And I am now jealous of 14-year-old me because that guy avoided this dumpster fire of a flick.
I also blame this movie for putting the idea in Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ head that the internet is a series of tubes.
I know we say this everytime we watch a movie from the ‘90s that reek of that decade, but this seriously is the most 1990s movie I have ever scene. From using Eddie Vedder as an alias to the thumping obnoxious beats of the techno music that was popular at the time because of drugs, this movie gave me flashbacks of discmans, oversized JNCO jeans and some unflattering hairstyles I may or may not have sported that decade.
As I kidnap Fisher Stevens for giving Paddy’s Pub a bad review, why don’t you kick this off.
Brown: So I laughed when this movie started and we saw a bunch of SWAT team members swarming a house in quaint suburbia. This movie literally starts with someone getting swatted, which is something that YouTube comment section-type scum actually do to internet let’s players. Seriously, I just found a top 10 list for this activity! We truly live in the darkest timeline.
He’s here we see a pre-teen kid named Dade Murphy (internet alias: Zero Cool, which is how I describe said nickname) getting arrested for crashing 1,507 computer systems. That’s an oddly specific number. Anyways, this causes the stock market to drop seven points. Also, when SWAT comes barging in, how do they not tell Dade’s mom to get down? They just go straight to his room and apprehend him.
Anyhow, Dade is found guilty, the family is fined $45,000 and he is banned from using a computer or a touch-tone phone until he is 18.
So… Dade can use a cordless phone? What happens if he goes out with friends and he has to call his mom to check in? How the hell would the authorities know he’s using a touch-tone phone?
I have so many questions and we’re not even 10 minutes in.
Froemming: I wrote 10-minutes in that this is the stupid version of “Mr. Robot.”
We now travel in time seven years to a now teenage Dade hacks a government building and gets in by prank calling a security guard with the alias “Eddie Vedder” and I nearly shut my Xbox off at that moment in a rage.
Even worse: Dade sits in his room, in the dark, wearing sunglasses.
To quote Larry David: The only people who wear sunglasses indoors are blind people and assholes.
Brown: Especially if you have those round John Lennon-type sunglasses. This movie is full of round sunglasses and I hate everyone who wears them.
Anyway, Dade turns 18 and his mom gets him a computer.
I’m going to address this now: The mom, she’s an enabler. She wants Dade to be responsible, go to college, stay out of trouble, etc. She’s a single mom trying to do her best, after all.
And yet, Dade gets off probation and she just gives him the VERY THING he used seven years ago to cost your family a lot of money and his freedom. And you don’t put the pieces together once he has a telephone in his room. He’s doing the same (REDACTED) he did at 11 and you show no concern when Dade says he’s spending his 18th birthday hacking a TV station. Ma’am, you brought all this upon your family.
Two quick thoughts: 1. Did internet technology actually not change over seven years to where Dade can just hop on and hack with no learning curve? 2. When he does hack the TV station, he takes over a racist show called “America First.” I support that work, Dade.
Froemming: Further proof that this stupidity has always been with us. *sigh*
Anyway, his hack gets itself hacked with fiery letters basically pulling a Walter White and telling him to stay out of their territory. This is by someone calling themselves Acid Burn, which made me kinda with I was burning myself with acid rather than continue with this movie.
Now when this happened, I became Michael Bluth watching his family imitate chickens and asked myself: Had anyone involved with this movie actually ever seen a computer? Or how the internet worked?
Brown: OK, I thought the same thing. And then I laughed to myself thinking that around a decade later, “Swordfish” came out and it was just as dumb and made the internet look like a terrible Windows screen saver.
Even in the 2000s, Hollywood failed to understand the internet. It’s like they’re a newspaper or something.
Froemming: *laughing and weeping at the same time*
Because this is also a high school romp, Dade goes to school where he meets Kate Libby and the world’s introduction to Angelina Jolie. Everyone in this movie that is in high school looks like what some art director assumed what cyber punk was supposed to look like, but mistook that with obnoxious ravers.
Brown: I read on Wikipedia that Jolie’s part was originally offered to Katherine Heigl, but she turned it down because she was set to film “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory,” a Steven Seagal jam.
So much of what I just typed makes my head hurt.
Froemming: Kate pranks Dade by saying their is an Olympic-sized swimming pool on the roof of their school and this was when I realized maybe boy genius here has been eating paint chips since his arrest seven years before, because he falls for the prank. He goes on the roof where a gang of outcasts are trapped because they too fell for this gag and gets trapped himself.
Let me just say this: This movie tries to tell us Dade is a brilliant kid. His actions tell me he’s more a Trump University grad than MIT.
Brown: I was more concerned with Dade’s fashion choices. Dude is pretty much wearing a life vest on his first day of school. Later, he wears a motorcycle jacket and most certainly does not own a motorcycle.
But you are right, Froemming: Dade is not bright for thinking there could ever be a roof pool in a public high school.
Anyways, after being humiliated like a girl who clearly thinks he’s a dweeb, Dade goes and puts himself in Kate’s English class because, well, he is a teenage boy. Hormones and all.
Looking over Dade’s shoulder while he’s doing this is a classmate nicknamed “Phreak,” played by Sally Can’t Dance from “Con-Air.” So, I have a theory that this movie is an origin story for that character.
Froemming: Makes sense. He is a criminal hacker who after this movie, gets in trouble that lands him on a plane full of America’s most notorious criminals.
Brown: OK, here’s my head canon. I’ll be jumping around a little bit here.
Already a flamboyant teen and a kid who follows the hacker’s manifesto of living without bias and being curious, Phreak lives this lifestyle. Then, he’s arrested for stealing sensitive information, which propels the plot of “Hackers.” Eventually, all his friends are cleared. However, Phreak remains locked up for being an illegal alien (he does make a phone call to South America when we meet him). Because the American justice system is broken, Phreak is sent to prison and transforms from eccentric teen to hardened criminal sent on a flying prison. When free from the plane, our former Phreak/new Sally Can’t Dance wants to relive his eccentric past by frantically looking for a dress in the desert because “Con-Air” is a very forward-thinking movie.
Anyway, Phreak sees Dade hack into Kate’s class and realizes a fellow traveler on the road to internet crime. Dade also gets back at Kate by hacking into the school and making the sprinklers go off at a specific time.
What (REDACTED) high school is this in the ‘90s? My high school only had computers in the library and the smart kid classrooms. I am pretty sure if the sprinkler system actually worked (I always thought they were just glued on the ceilings to make us feel safe) they were not connected to the internet.
So he pranks Kate and I swear the only reason this scene exists is because we get a brief wet T-shirt contest sort of thing with women’s boobs being exposed through their white shirts.
Brown: Well, we are dealing with teenagers.
Because of his L33T hacker skills, Phreak invites Dade to what looks like a villain hideout from “Batman and Robin” but is actually a hacker nightclub. Everyone rollerblades. Matthew Lillard is selling bootleg cassettes (I think). And Kate is playing a video game, which is apparently “Wipeout,” that she has all the high scores in because it’s a nightclub and you should be social and not making people watch you play video games. I always hated that in college parties where some dummy actually believes the party wants to watch you play “Halo.”
And, because Dade is an admitted virgin who clearly doesn’t understand women, he takes the controls from Kate and tries to beat her high score. There’s a joystick joke there that is too easy. Also, take it from someone who currently owns four gaming systems: No woman gives a (REDACTED) how good you are at video games.
Froemming: Well, he beats her score and she goes off with Curtis. Who’s Curtis you ask? He is in this one scene and Phreak says what he does is look slick all day.
I think he meant “sick,” because Curtis looks like a meth head who hasn’t seen the sun in a couple of months.
To move this along, we meet our antagonist in “The Plague” / Eugene Belford. See, one of Dade’s hacker buddies, Joey (no relation), hacks into Ellingson Mineral Company, where Penn Jillette is working security in his off-time from being a magician/rabid libertarian. He alerts Eugene that something is afoot and they are able to track to Joey’s address (the movie doesn’t even bother to use the term IP address, probably because nobody knew what the (REDACTED) they were doing in this movie).
Brown: They also make hacking look like some lame version of “Tron” (not to mention do the cliche transition of New York City into a microchip because COMPUTERS, man). I mean, I get it, because a computer screen lined with codes is not visually appealing but hell, “Mr. Robot” can do it. But every computer in the ‘90s apparently had to look like “The Lawnmower Man.”
So Joey, trying to look cool for his hacker friends, makes a copy of what he was able to access from Ellingson (not a full copy because his mother is responsible and shuts off his computer when Joey is supposed to be in bed).
This, this is not good for The Plague. Because the file that Joey accessed has something nefarious on it, to the point that The Plague shows what it called the Da Vinci virus, which holds Ellingson up for ransom or else it will capsize some of the company’s oil ships. But, the Da Vinci is a red herring for a robbery scheme put together by The Plague and head of HR Margo Wallace (played by Lorraine Bracco of “Goodfellas” fame). What’s the scheme? I’ll rant about that later.
Froemming: Bracco also starred in “The Sopranos,” making this the only non-Mafia related thing I have seen her in.
Brown: And my God, Margo speaks so loudly in public about this plan that I’m surprised they weren’t caught in the first 30 minutes of this movie.
Froemming: Everyone does! When they are doing the hacking competition, Lillard is screaming what they are doing in a very loud exposition dump.
OK, so Kate is throwing a party and the hackers show up, because they are buddies now. And they go into her bedroom and oogle her computer, which thank goodness because socially awkward teens in Angelina Jolie’s bedroom could have gotten creepy.
Wait! It does!
As they are going gaga over her laptop, Kate and a dude pop in to make out and maybe engage in James Bond-style loud sex. And our Hacker friends just sit there watching like a gang of perverts. Then Dade says something and Kate realizes a bunch of nerds are watching her in the dark, in her bedroom.
Does she freak out like a normal person? No. Because they are impressed with her computer, she ignores the creepiness that JUST OCCURED mere moments before.
Brown: Something that bugged me throughout the movie: Why is Kate so hostile towards Dade? I mean, she pranked him and she’s all defensive when he pulls the sprinkler bit. Then, OK, she’s rightfully mad at the group for sneaking into her room and going onto her laptop and ending her heavy petting sesh. But she’s ESPECIALLY mad that Dade is there. I’d be more upset with Cereal Killer being there because he refers to women’s butts as “Poopers,” which is the most disturbing thing I’ve seen in cinema for a while.
Froemming: You just wait until next week with “Blue Velvet!”
Brown: Anyhow, it’s here where Dade and Kate find out they are Crash Override and Acid Burn, respectively. They both think they’re better hackers, so they make a bet. Dade wins, they go on a date. Kate wins, Dade becomes her gofer. Meanwhile, I think Curtis is in the room going “Uhh, what the hell?” Or he was in my head.
And what do they do for this bet? They literally ruin a man’s life. Specifically, the life of Richard Gill, hacker enemy No. 1. They go so far as to have his credit card destroyed, put his contact info in a personal ad (which I did chuckle at) and changing his payroll status to deceased.
I’ll let Dwight Schrute explain how I felt when I watched this montage:
Froemming: This is, in my head canon, how Richard Gill responds to all of this:
But alas, the game ends up a tie, probably because they make up the rules as they go as if they are playing Chardee MacDennis. So, to up the ante, the bet is if Dade wins, Kate wears a dress on their date. If Kate wins, Dade wears a dress on their date.
So either way Dade gets a date? (REDACTED) this nonsense.
Brown: Hey now, they’re apparently having similar wet dreams about each other, to the point that Kate buys Dade lingerie for their date. Yeah, this is dumb to me, too.
Froemming: That’s not how this works. This is not how any of this works!
Also, we don’t hear about the contest again until it is shoehorned in at the end of this movie.
So the secret service bust Joey for hacking into Ellingson Mineral Company’s supercomputer, The Gibson. Funny, when I hear someone go on a drunken racist rant, I call it pulling a Gibson.
So in the raid, the police were unable to find the floppy disk that Joey kept the garbage folder in. So when he’s on parole and no longer grounded, Joey meets Phreak in a park to tell him about the disk. However, the dude is tailed and now we got a chase going on. Phreak uses bubble gum to hide the disk behind a pillar (??) in a bathroom at school before he is arrested. While making his one phone call all criminals get, Phreak tells Kate where the disk is. They NEED to find out what’s on this thing. So, Kate and Cereal Killer go to the one person in their group with a criminal record to help them out. But, he won’t because A. said record, and B. The Plague came to him earlier in the movie to narc on his friends about the disk and he doesn’t want to help this weirdo who destroyed his boom box with a baseball bat and rides around an office building on a skateboard like a grown up.
Dade follows Kate’s wish to make a copy of the floppy in case they get arrested. Only, under threats of his mom getting arrested, Dade gives the copy to The Plague, who literally picks it up by skitchin’ on a limo on said skateboard and snatching it out of Dade’s hand.
Holy (REDACTED), the ‘90s were a septic tank of a decade.
Froemming: After this, Dade pops in on his hacker buddies, who are trying to figure out what is on the disk. It takes time, effort, pizza and I assume a lot of meth, but they realize they have stumbled upon a scheme that is straight outta “Superman 3.”
Take it away, Brown!
Brown: Apparently the ‘90s were so uninspired that two notable movies from the decade — this and “Office Space” — offer the same (REDACTED) idea of using fractions of pennies to amass a fortune. It’s just so convoluted in every instance it’s used in. I honestly feel like Jennifer Aniston when having this stupid plan explained.
Like, using the Da Vinci virus to capsize tankers for a ransom, the ransom is cliche, but capsizing tankers and risking lives, that’s at least a somewhat original idea. And you don’t need to have a knowledge of computer coding to go “Oh, that makes sense.”
You know what people like in crime movies? Robbery planning. A game of cat and mouse in trying to stop the crime from happening.
You know what people don’t like in crime movies? Talk of (REDACTED) compound interest and decimals. I came to be entertained, not to sit in high school math class.
Froemming: Same with the “Star Wars” prequels: I want lightsaber battles, not intergalactic trade disputes. The ‘90s were full of movies trying to make boring topics cool. No amount of techno and Angelina Jolie is going to make this entertaining.
Now that they know what is the basic premise, they realize that Eugene’s goal is to pin the tankers capsizing on them by claiming they created the Da Vinci virus. What about the millions of dollars missing? Everyone will be too distracted by the one thing to notice the other. It’s called Pulling A Donald Trump. But how do you take down Lyle Korman, Philadelphia’s No. 1 bar and restaurant critic?
You unite the hackers of the world! Because, you know, it is pretty easy to find people who go out of their way to not be found.
Brown: And you do with with a pair of gentlemen named Razor and Blade who make what looks like a public access crazy fest called “Hack the Planet.” Hey Froemming, did you know that Jolt Cola is the official soda of hackers? You do now, thanks to these two dudes who are named after “TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze” henchmen.
Anyways, the two agree to join our motley crew of hackers to infiltrate and muck up The Gibson. Eventually, they get an army of hackers to join the cause, including Russian hackers.
Insert your own 2016 election jokes here, dear reader. “Hackers” turned my brain into a paste.
Froemming: Our heroes have to hook up to the internet at payphones to pull off their side of things. Which made me chuckle and remember a time when payphones were a thing.
But they have the cops ready to bust them, so they need a distraction to pull this off. So Dade hacks into the city’s stoplights and makes all of them turn green at the same time.
I’ve been in Manhattan. This stunt would have killed a lot of people. New Yorkers behind the wheel are already on a homicidal edge, and this would absolutely put them over.
Brown: I was really waiting for some “Blues Brothers” level of pile-up with this traffic stunt.
With the cops predisposed of, the hack is on. And again, it looks like an Atari Jaguar game. Hell, Dade is wearing what looks like a Tiger R-Zone, a piece of bad ‘90s video gaming that you wore an actual eyepiece for.
Between that and Joey chain-smoking, we are dealing with real edgelords in this hacker group.
Anyways, the hack is over and Dade has a floppy with all the info from the garbage folder, ready to take down The Plague… just in time for a gun to be put into his face.
While being hauled away, Dade somehow still has the floppy and tosses it into a garbage can. Then, we get maybe the most notable scene from this movie where Dade is telling Cereal Killer where the disk is.
Cereal Killer is a complete moron. There is no chance he would have figured that out from the context clues.
Froemming: I did buy Cereal Killer is good at digging in trash cans though. And he does find the disk.
Well, the hackers are at the precinct, where Dade tries to cover for Kate by saying she doesn’t know anything about computers. Dade, give up the ghost man. Also, a little insulting.
Our heroes are not talking and suddenly Cereal Killer pops on EVERY television in the world. Now, sure he spills the beans on Eugene’s plan and all, but come on, as soon as I saw his face on my TV, I’d shut the damn thing off. Nobody needs that sort of aggression in their life.
Margo and Eugene see this on TV as well and know they are (REDACTED). And like the weasel he is, Eugene sneaks out and lets Margo take the fall.
Brown: I laughed seeing Eugene trying to evade the law by hopping a plane to Japan and dressing like Charlie Kelly’s version of “Serpico.”
Now that Johnny Law has let go of our teen heroes, it’s time for Dade and Kate’s date (although they tied). They look like they picked their clothes from Mugatu’s Derelicte collection from “Zoolander” before deciding to go for a swim?
And it seems like they jumped into the deep end because the two actors are trying to say their lines but keep getting a mouth full of water. You know what’s romantic? Almost drowning.
Somehow their friends hack buildings across the street and that’s enough for Dade and Kate to start furiously making out on what turns out to be a pool on a roof. (REDACTED) you, movie.
Again, you know what’s sexy and how Dade should lose his virginity? Drowning!
Ugg… I think we’re both fighting for air now. Let’s get to recommendations, Froemming.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: No. This movie hits too many nerves for me. It’s a product of its time which, again, the ‘90s wasn’t as great as we thought it was.
Froemming: Nope. This was a giant mess of a film.