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Out in Theaters: ‘KONG: SKULL ISLAND’

Like Godzilla before him, King Kong has since the 1930s become a culturally permeably mainstay. A piece of cinematic iconography, King Kong is the USA’s equivalent to Japan’s giant fire-breathing lizard and both have served to define our country’s spotted history in cinematic terms. But their reach extends beyond the borders of past rivals. Each have become so ingrained in the global zeitgeist that if you plucked a child from just about anywhere on earth, they would likely be able to put a name to a photo or toy of the recognizable giants. Kong, the ape who famously fell, has found his story told a number of times but none have approached the movie monster with quite the same bombastic chutzpah and total IMAX-friendly insanity as Jordan Vogt-Roberts has with Kong: Skull IslandRead More

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Out in Theaters: BLACKHAT

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The only way to make sense of Blackhat is to imagine Hansel (of the Zoolander variety, not he of the breadcrumbs) taking an online computer science class, changing his name to Michael Mann and setting out to wow the world by going “inside the computer.” The result is 135 minutes of excruciating, unequivocal gobbledegook led by the most frigid onscreen couple since Joel Schumacher‘s Mr. Freeze squabbled with Poison Ivy.  To call it bad is a lie by degree; it’s impossibly poor. For over two simply unbearable hours, join Mann as he sullies his good name with a film so awesomely abhorrent you’ll be doubting that he (he of international critical acclaim and assorted Oscar nominations) ever stepped foot on set.

Unfortunately, Mann’s fingerprints are undeniably all over Blackhat. His signature wide-lens nocturnal cityscapes are too crisp to be the work of even a dedicated understudy. If we’re digging deep to give Mann points (something we really shouldn’t be doing for a movie this embarrassingly bad), at least those fleeting heli-shots of x or y city at night provides temporary respite from the narrative implosion happening all around it. With force, Mann throws down the gauntlet for a movie where the establishing shots are incontestably better than the actual goings on of the film.

The plot (if you’re generous enough to refer to this “RAT after cheese” hunt as a plot) consists of a rogue hacker con (Chris Hemsworth) furloughed by the FBI in an attempt to hunt down those responsible for bringing a Chinese nuclear reactor to the brink of a meltdown, old MIT buddies reunited under the most improbable of circumstances, a kid sister sidekick with eyes for the hunky Hemsworth and one ESL-lesson shy of a TOEFL-degree and evil hackers who lounge around with their pale bellies protruding. Blackhat pivots on the oh-so-exciting prospects of coding, stock manipulation and the DOW value of soy. And eventually tin. If only 1995 Michael Mann could hear how tinny it sounds.

Hemsworth isn’t to blame for the bed-shitting puddle of yuck that is Blackhat (though he could have tried a touch less humorlessness), nor is seasoned compatriot Viola Davis (though I’d like to have a word with her heavy-handed makeup artist). The other leads though – those of the Asian persuasion – seem culled from the international recycling bin. As the female lead, Wei Tang has less restraint than a local weatherman and her consistent jumbling of volume and cadence leads to some wonky audio issues that a finished, wide-release film should never encounter. The conversations are loud, then inexplicably quiet and then overbearingly tremble-y. Like someone sat on the audio control board and no one cared enough to fix it.

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But Blackhat is filled with those brush-it-off-the-shoulder moments, as it succumbs steadily to a tide of directionless, thoughtless bunk. The perceived mounting suspense-by-laptop is as exciting as waiting two hours to discover a broken roller coaster at the end of the queue. Or watching a friend play a video game. As in watching only them, without being privy to what’s happening on the screen. For two hours.

The second time that Mann dips into the computer circuits to spider around for an improbable amount of time, you know you’re in trouble. When the leads lunge at each other like caged rabbits, holding back hearty howls is as impossible as enjoying the film. It’s all the worst habits of bad filmmaking puked onto the screen and shown over and over again. If The Fifth Estate is a golden boy for laughable hacker drama gone wrong, Blackhat dares to one-up it.
 
When affairs get gun-fighty, you breathe a sigh of relief. “Well at least Mann knows how to shoot the hell out of a gun fight. We’re all set here guys. Right?” Wrong. One couldn’t predict how horribly clunky and straight-to-video the transpiring blaze of gunfire is if they had a crystal ball. It’s almost unreasonable to be expected to come to terms with the fact that the same Michael Mann who directed the infamously taut bank shootout of Heat filmed what is quite reasonably the worst wide-release gunfight of the 21st century. Hang your head heavy Mr. Mann, feel the shame waft over you. Either that or your captors should feel rather guilty (“Where is the real Michael Mann and what have you done with him?!”)

The hacker thriller is a tough cookie to crack and has led to more certifiably misfires than any other action subgenre I can summon (yes, even more so than the geri-action sort). The closest anyone’s ever gotten to a great hacker thriller is The Matrix, and I use the comparison softly because calling it a hacker thriller is me admittedly bending the lines. Michael Mann’s film doesn’t come close to great. It’s not even within the realm of good. It couldn’t see the periphery of good with 400x binoculars. To have his name attached to it is to bear a Scarlet Letter from this point hence. Insufferable and tacitly overlong, his shameful film is an early contender for being crowned worst film of the year. Play at being Neo for a day: dodge a bullet and skip Blackhat.

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