Carlo's Corner: 90's Cyber Thrillers
Good to see you all back for a new installment of /01001/C4RL0/S/C0RN3R/10010/ where I will guide you on this virtual journey to a place beyond the reaches of the pizza police, in an attempt to achieve potential cyberspace nirvana.
The year is 1988. Eleven-year-old Dade “ZERO COOL” Murphy gets arrested for crashing precisely 1507 computer systems. His sentence: banned from using computers and touch-tone phones until the age of 18. The only real purpose this opener serves is establishing that H@CKERS R B4D, because we immediately flash-forward to 18-year-old Dade back in the swing of things, with a new alias and about to enroll in college. He joins up with a group of rogue cyber gatekeepers lead by Angelina “ACID BURN” Jolie. But hey, whaddaya know, the system is still corrupt and even ridiculous movies need conflict so here comes Fisher Stevens on a skateboard!
“Type cookie, you hapless techno-weenie!”
So how daft is Hackers exactly? Well, let me just describe Fisher Stevens’ character: waistcoat, goatee, slicked back hair, calls himself “The Plague,” and travels around by latching onto cars while on his skateboard. Yes, we’re talking about an adult man here. Probably the kind who spends his free time creating ironic, edgy gangster popeye memes, but an adult man nonetheless. Oh and let’s not forget about Matthew Lillard, aka CEREAL KILLER, giving us his usual blend of nuance and facial spasms. These are not things born out of apathy and ineptitude, they require self-awareness and commitment.
“Oh! Look at that pooper, man. Spandex, it’s a privilege, not a right.”
Hackers was made in the '90s, takes place in the '90s, and somehow feels even more '90s than the '90s did. At the time it posited a world so aesthetically turned up to eleven that it became closer to science-fiction than it ever set out to be. I mean, unless there were isolated bubbles in Los Angeles and New York where people actually dressed, talked, and “hacked the planet” to such extremities; but as it is, it's really more of a very thickly-laid-on time capsule. And unless you have an inherent distaste for the era, Hackers is nothing if not entertaining. There’s never a dull moment, it keeps a pace and the stakes are pretty stupid but they are always there and perfectly in line with the overall tone.
The Lawnmower Man started off as an adaptation of a Stephen King short story, but King quickly severed all ties when he saw the project had morphed into something entirely different. No sir, if there’s one thing Stephen King won’t have, it’s seeing his writing turned into coke-fueled nightmares. Ahem. On the other hand, Lawnmower Man 2: [Insert Preferred Title] is the cinematic equivalent of Frankenstein's monster. Created from a dumpster draft of RoboCop 3, a John Williams' non-union Mexican equivalent soundtrack, seasoned with that meme of the doggo who is hacking the system to find out who is a good boy, and squeezed through a human-shaped mould onto a macaroni painting of the original Star Wars trilogy.
While The Lawnmower Man is about a simpleton being turned from Rain Man into Brain Man using experimental VR testing, Beyond Cyberspace/Jobe’s War wholly ignores those events and picks up a few years later with the neighbour kid from the first movie; now living in an abandoned subway station with a ragtag band of half-pint hackers, as the rest of the world has suddenly gotten a B-grade Blade Runner overhaul. When the gang “jacks into” cyberspace (obligatory jacking off-joke, check) and surfs over Virtuassic Park, The Kid is reunited with Matt “Lawnmower Man” Frewer (replacing Jeff Fahey, who saw more potential in Darkman III: Die Darkman Die) wearing some kinda vaporware C3PO-suit, pleading to him that he’s his “only hope” in finding some guy who I like to call “Dreadlock Doc Holiday.”
Obviously it’s all pretty nonsensical, and while I usually revel in such things, the only thing consistent about the first movie was that it put me to sleep. A promising first act aside, I basically summed up everything worth mentioning about the sequel in a paragraph. Even the most high-concept cyber thriller can’t sustain itself on small surges in a sea of self-seriousness, so I find myself hard-pressed in recommending either of the Lawnmower Men.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Russell Crowe Show. Now I’ve never been a big fan of old tugger, but it’s hard to talk about Virtuosity without highlighting his performance as SID 6.7. I’m pretty sure it’s a blip on his career he’d rather forget about, but if you ask me he reads the tone of Eric Bernt's script like a PRO and gave it exactly what it needed to elevate this beyond a mere misguided exercise in convolutedness. Not to downplay an already excellent cast, spearheaded by Denzel Washington, but there's something magical about the way Crowe takes an entire nightclub hostage and uses their screams and whimpers to orchestrate a symphony.
“I’m a fifty terabyte, self-evolving, neural network, double backflip off the high platform.”
Structurally it’s suspiciously similar to Stallone’s Demolition Man. An ex-cop (Parker Barnes, Denzel) and a notorious criminal (SID 6.7, Crowe) are both released from their personal prisons to resume a deadly cat and mouse game. Except Virtuosity walks a much more far-fetched, and convenient path. You see, SID 6.7 isn’t a person, but a computer program whose personality consists of an amalgam of famous serial killers, brought to life by “incubating a nanotech android”–which roughly translates to being born out of a snake egg to house music. This neatly ties in with Parker Barnes’ reinstatement as an officer of the law, because apparently one of the serial killers manifesting in SID 6.7’s programming is the same man who was killed by Parker for murdering his family, and naturally this means he is the only one capable of stopping SID 6.7. Oh, and did I mention Parker Barnes has a metallic limb? A plot point which never pays off, let alone gets mentioned again.
“Attracted to violence as a child?”
“Yes. The Three Stooges... Every time Wile E. Coyote got crushed, I...” *bites tongue*
Yes, Virtuosity is nuts in all the best ways. A solid gold 10 on the Nic Cage-scale. An absolute deep-fried treat, if you will. The perfect example of a movie that's not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good. Unearthing treasures like this give me life, and the hope that people never outgrow their daringness to be stupid. Yet more than anything, I cannot stress enough the extent to which Crowe knocks it outta the park.
Other movies I recommend seeing that defy the boundaries of good taste: Ghost in the Machine (1993), The Net (1995), Death Machine (1994), Hardware (1990), Class of 1999 (1990), Brainscan (1994), Circuitry Man (1990), Nemesis (1992), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Arcade (1994), Surviving the Game (1994).