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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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We’re in that January moment when last year’s prestige releases still are making their way around much of the country, boosted by this week’s Academy Award nominations. Put another way, January is not exactly prime time for new movies.

No wonder, then, that director Michael Mann’s misbegotten Blackhat has slipped into the mix.

A numbed-out thriller about computer hacking, Blackhat promises topical urgency, but winds up feeling disconnected from a reality we’ve come to know all too well from recent headlines. (See stories about the great Sony hacking).

Hemsworth and Wei in Blackhat
Hemsworth and Wei in Blackhat

Working from a screenplay by Morgan Davis Foehl, Mann delivers a one-note effort that matches most of the movie’s one-note performances.

Chris Hemsworth — the Australian actor of Thor fame — plays a master hacker who’s furloughed from prison to help the U.S. and Chinese governments catch a mysterious super-hacker. The mystery hacker caught the world’s attention by blowing up a Chinese nuclear facility and then wreaking havoc on the world’s soy markets.

From that point on, the U.S. and China become reluctant collaborators. Hemsworth’s Hathaway joins with a former MIT pal (Leehom Wang), a Chinese military officer who does high-level tech work. Wang’s character brings along his sister (Wei Tang), who provides technical assistance and serves as a perfunctory love interest for Hathaway.

Who wouldn’t fall in love while discussing the intricacies of RATs (remote administration tools)? Yes, the screenplay mentions RATs.

Viola Davis, who gives the movie’s only interesting line reading, plays an FBI agent. She’s trying to keep tabs on Hathaway, who’s supposed to have rogue tendencies.

Why does the FBI even need Hathaway? It seems he created the malware used by the fiendish intruder as a digital springboard for his cyber crimes.

Mann shows us this computer hackery with images that explore the innards of various and assorted chips en route to their felonious destination. I guess we’re supposed to be impressed.

Mann also uses many shots of people working at keyboards. If you don’t believe that watching someone type is boring, come over some time. You can watch me tap away.

Mann, of course, includes the requisite chases and action set pieces, all set against a backdrop of massive indifference. Who really cares about any of this?

Hemsworth doesn’t bring much to Mann’s party: He seems to have given up on facial expressions in a performance that’s as pulseless as the movie itself. Strands of hair dangle over Hathaway’s face like inverted windshield wipers, some sort of fashion statement one supposes.

Maybe the whole idea of the Hathaway character was doomed from the outset: He’s a guy who can write code and kick butt. The movie might have been more intriguing had Hathaway been shown to be better at using his brain than stomping his opponents.

Blackhat does its share of globe hopping, traveling to Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia, but you may be too busy watching the screenplay trample logic to enjoy the movie’s travelogue pleasures, many of which tend to be blood-splattered anyway.

Mann — whose filmography (Heat, The Insider, Collateral and Manhunter) includes a fair share of strong work — finds some energy in the movie’s home stretch. It’s too late. Blackhat already has established itself as a forgettable helping of January mush.