Back in the 1990’s not that many people knew how the Internet worked, and as could be expected, Hollywood picked up on this cultural zeitgeist and produced a number of high-tech thrillers, many of them were either critically panned or commercial flops. Sadly, this film was a commercial flop, an unfortunate victim of the repetitive cycle of Hollywood trends, and the whole cyber trend eventually died the way all fads do, with this film being buried in obscurity. That’s such a shame because this film had quite an interesting premise to say the least, even if it sometimes comes across as a typically silly 90’s period piece.
The plot involves a young man named Dade Murphy (a.k.a. “Zero Cool”), who after his 18th birthday is finally allowed to use a computer after a seven-year probation period. After he and his newfound hacker friends stumble upon a security chief’s plot to use a dangerous computer virus to embezzle millions of dollars from his company, they must work to find evidence for the plot and uncover the mastermind behind it while eluding the secret service.
Right off the bat, this was a film that had hacker culture in its sights, going so far as to have a character quote the Hacker Manifesto (“We exist without nationality, skin color, or religious bias. You wage wars, murder, cheat, lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity”). Given the real-life hacking groups who came to prominence over a decade after this film was released, the film was ahead of its time in terms of the themes it tackles. However, I do feel that such themes aren’t explored in a serious or intelligent way, not that they were intended to be (certainly not with the lack of research). It’s supposed to be entertainment, and in that regard it certainly works.
It’s worth noting that the film was very keen on showing off the latest in tech, along with unrealistic depictions of hacking (surely it isn’t that exciting in real life), let alone hackers. This being 1995, the computers used to be top-of-the-line tech in its day, but due to how fast technology evolved in real life, they would now be considered horribly outdated in modern eyes (modems at speeds of 28.8 kbps used to be impressive in the 90’s, but not anymore, and neither would be the meagre hacking feats of an 11-year-old boy), so to anyone looking at this film and judging it through contemporary lens, it will seem almost laughable (though I have a personal fascination with old tech).
The characters are okay, but the acting fails to impress. It sort of feels like the actors were trying too hard, and in the end, they don’t make for convincing characters at all. Of course, I’m not one to chide films solely for unrealistic teen characters (unless that’s the whole plot, like in one of those reprehensible teen comedies), but it really doesn’t seem as if Hollywood as any good at writing those characters. They aren’t terrible, and there are some humorous moments, but that probably isn’t entirely down to the characters.
If you’re looking for a serious story and convincing characters, this film probably isn’t for you, but the film does have some redeeming qualities. The film’s special effects, for instance, are quite pleasant, and they work well with the whole cyber theme. Interestingly enough, the cyberspace effects apparently weren’t made with CGI. According the film’s director, Iain Softley, the film uses more conventional animation methods to create a 3D world. If that’s true, then as an animation connoisseur, I’ve got to give him credit for doing something different to what major films at the time were doing.
The film generally presented itself quite well, whether its the special effects or the catchy techno soundtrack. Yes, it does come across as typically 90’s, but I actually quite like the film. I actually expected something much cheesier, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, it at least accomplishes the end goal of being decently entertaining. It’s not serious, and it’s an obvious relic of its time, but at least it was unabashed entertainment.
- Score: 68%
- Grade: C