05/01/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hackers : A Comically Inept Movie With Perhaps the Worst Computer Visuals of the '90s

Once upon a time, the word "hacker" had a sort of outlaw cachet. At the beginning of the boom of the internet and World Wide Web -- say, the early '80s to the late '90s -- computers were ubiquitous but mysterious, seemingly limitless in capacity. And hackers were the wizards who understood them, manipulated them, and bent them to their will. A few movies were made to dramatize the new world of viruses and hackers, from 1983's Wargames (rating: 80) to 1995's The Net (rating: 59) andHackers. The computer world they depicted bore little resemblance to the one the rest of us inhabited. By the time of The Matrix (rating: 86), it had reached the point of self-parody.

But Hackers sank below absurdity. Computers in the movies never work the way they do in real life -- according to the "No Windows Rule" of the San Antonio Express-News's Harry Thomas, "No film uses either the Windows or Mac operating systems that the rest of the world uses on a daily basis. All movie computers have their own OS that pops up in windows that make aesthetically pleasing sounds and respond to everything with busy little noises." In Hackers, the internet is a psychedelic trip, viruses speak, and the battle between hacker viruses and corporate antivirus software is visualized on a video wall showing a picture that looks like a cross between Missile Command and Rez. It doesn't help that the rest of the film looks terrible as well, with production values resembling the reenactment interstitials of a PBS documentary.

The film hasn't been entirely forgotten, however, for two reasons. An incidental phrase on a background sign in one shot of the movie, "Trust Your Technolust," has become a bit of a catchphrase on the internet, serving as the slogan for the Hak5 show on the Revision3 web network. The other reason, of course, is that it stars a young, briefly naked Angelina Jolie. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable, though it's bizarrely stacked with "that guys" and people who went on to do far more interesting things, including Felicity Huffman, Matthew Lillard, Latin heartthrob Marc Anthony, Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller), Lorraine Bracco (who played Dr. Melfi on "The Sopranos"), and Wendell Pierce (who played Bunk on "The Wire").

While the actors were no great shakes, and star Jonny Lee Miller was fairly awful, the real blame for the movie's ineptitude has to be laid at the feet of the director, Iain Softley. A former music video director, he's only helmed 6 movies, and they mostly aren't good: along than Hackers, he also directed K-PAX and The Skeleton Key. (I kind of liked his costume drama The Wings of the Dove (rating: 67), but I've always had a thing for Helena Bonham Carter, and it's the kind of movie that sounds like it ought to be directed by a Brit named Softley.) So he's kind of a hack. But music video directors aren't usually apt to make movies as visually clueless as this one. Perhaps cinematographer Andrzej Sekula is to blame, though Sekula certainly did a decent job with Pulp Fiction (rating: 90). Tarantino knew what he was doing, though. No element of this movie bears a strong director's stamp. Instead, it comes off like an amateurish mess, an out-of-touch cash-in attempt to portray youth culture by a group of people without a clue. Not even Angelina Jolie -- or her obvious assets -- can save that.

Rating: 20

Crossposted on Remingtonstein.