Blackhat botches provocative premise

It’s a shock that Michael Mann’s film Blackhat, which tackles the highly topical and relevant issue of computer hacking and cyber-terrorism, would turn out so monotonous and mundane. For all the globe-trotting and Mann’s trademark flashy style, which even depicts the inner workings of a computer keyboard (an excessive and unnecessary touch), Blackhat never finds its footing. It’s a missed opportunity of the first order.

Following a nuclear meltdown in Hong Kong and a financial meltdown in the United States, a joint Chinese/US task force is charged with tracking down the culprit(s) responsible. To this end, Chinese agent Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) demands that imprisoned computer hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) spearhead the investigation.

By remarkably contrived convenience, Chen and Nick were roommates at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Even more contrived is that Chen is accompanied by his attractive and available younger sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei) — and a relationship quickly develops between her and Nick. Even in his best films, Mann is hardly the emotionally warmest of filmmakers, and this romantic subplot becomes a major drag.

Viola Davis and Holt McCallany are along for the ride as the obligatory FBI contingent, as they scour the globe in search of this high-tech dastard. It’s the old “cat-and-mouse” game, likewise the sort in which it’s uncertain who holds the upper hand. In a belated effort to hurry things along, the story simply becomes a quest for revenge with other narrative considerations and implications dropped.

Hemsworth can’t shake the beefcake image he’s cultivated in the Thor movies, and even the reliable Davis seems faintly distracted throughout — perhaps because of the unsightly wig she wears. Wang fares best as the dogged agent who goes so far as to defy his government in his pursuit, but eventually he too is dropped from the proceedings and leaves Hemsworth and Wei to save the day. But they can’t save the movie. !

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