Michael Mann's "Blackhat" Dead On Arrival

From Michael Mann, the filmmaker behind lurid, white-hot thrillers like “Collateral” and “Heat,” comes “Blackhat,” a film that’s none of those things. It’s a would-be cyber-thriller that assumes viewers have never seen a cyber-thriller before, a narrative nonstarter, and, most unforgivably, a technical fiasco. Where Mann’s previous outing “Public Enemies” suffered from some sound mixing issues, “Blackhat” trumps them times ten. Its inconsistent mix and amateurish sound editing are an outright embarrassment for all involved, sharply underlining the project’s general uselessness.

Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) headlines as Nick Hathaway, muscly computer hacker. Seemingly more used to crunching abs than numbers, his ripped physique is explained as a result of prison time. He’s quickly plucked from his cell by the FBI to assist in taking down a mysterious cyber criminal.

Said criminal is set on bringing down banking systems worldwide, his work carried out by a ruthless mercenary (Ritchie Coster, “The Dark Knight”). Motive typically doesn’t matter in films like this, but here it really doesn’t matter, only serving to allow Mann and company to globetrot from one exotic locale to another.

Viola Davis (“The Help”) co-stars as Carol Barrett, the FBI agent spearheading the operation, with a team rounded out by brother-sister combo Dawai (Leehom Wang) and Lien (Wei Tang). Lien inevitably becomes Hathaway’s love interest, a shoehorned in subplot that smacks of Mann’s previous career low, 2006’s “Miami Vice.”

Not once, but twice does the movie take us on a journey inside the guts of a computer, moving along circuit boards, showing the ostensible information superhighway in torrents of electric blue. It’s a visual trick that worked fine in the 80s, wore out its welcome in the 90s, and seems downright archaic now. So, it fits right in with the rest of the film.

Hathaway spends much of the film tapping away on keyboards, frequently looking down at his hands – no, really, the expert computer hacker looks at his hands to type – while Mann and crew fail the struggling cast over and over again with their post-production work. The sound looping is so execrable that entire scenes are ruined by dialogue not matching characters’ mouths.

And it’s not just the dubbing that stinks. The foley (sound effects) work is often laughable, with one scene featuring ambient noise that cuts out to the sound of canned, unnatural footsteps. Most indies feature more professional sound work.

Technical gaffes might have been surmountable if Morgan Davis Foehl’s screenplay was worth a damn. It’s not. There’s hardly a compelling note in the entire piece, marooning the typically charismatic Hemsworth aside from one semi-rousing action scene. The screenplay even saddles the actor with an abacus joke. Because what says high tech like a joke that would have been stale in the 70s?

“Blackhat” plays like an epitaph for a once great career, one that seemed to be hitting its stride 10 short years ago. Tom Cruise-Jamie Foxx thriller “Collateral” wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was distinct and suspenseful and wildly entertaining. Michael Mann circa 2015 is barely a shadow of that director, seemingly determined to fritter away his glory days on subpar material delivered with subpar effort.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: January 16, 2015
Studio: Universal Pictures, Legendary Pictures
Director: Michael Mann
Screenwriters: Morgan Davis Foehl
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Leehom Wang, Viola Davis, Wei Tang
MPAA Rating: R (for violence and some language)