★ out of four stars
I can see casting Chris Hemsworth as Thor. After all, he’s 6 feet 3, and Hollywood’s physique trainers have bulked him up to Marvel superhero quality. And he was acceptable as Formula 1 racer James Hunt in “Rush.” His male model looks explained Hunt’s legion of lady fans better than scenes of him driving 170 miles per hour.
But casting him as a computer hacker? That’s one of the biggest slip-ups in the laughable cyber-espionage thriller “Blackhat.” I mean, just Google computer hackers. They look like nerds who got painful high school wedgies, not smoldering owners of the world’s best bone structure who’ve just finished walking down a Gucci stage. Ten-out-of-10 good looks may make you an appealing movie actor, but not a believable one.
The film opens with a program-twisting computer network raid on a Chinese nuclear power plant that makes it go full Fukushima. A parallel incursion against the Chicago Board of Trade’s futures traders siphons off a very large amount of coin (although these days $72 million sounds like the kind of small change Dr. Evil collects).
Chinese cyber defense forces and the FBI join forces to capture the anonymous mastermind behind the attacks. If it was a North Korean ticked off about “The Interview,” the film would progress beyond screenwriter Morgan Foehl’s malware-infected mix of exposition chatter and exaggerated gunfights. As if.
The chiseled Hemsworth stars as Hathaway, an MIT graduate turned cybercriminal. He’s doing a lengthy term in federal prison, where he receives supermodel-quality haircuts and has time to do very complicated pushups.
He’s recruited to break into the bad guy’s hacking network. Of course he is — his cheekbones could, after all, cut diamonds. He joins forces with MIT classmate Chen (Leehom Wang), now a chief of Chinese state security.
Also on the team is Chen’s comely sister Lien (Wei Tang), another ninja-deft computer hacker. Because they like to talk about Tor relays and Stuxnet attacks and type quickly on clicking QWERTY keyboards, Hathaway and Lien fall into a romantic hookup despite no compelling reason for the couple to be together.
Director Michael Mann is no doubt trying his best here. After all, he has guided top character performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Hemsworth’s best scenes involve hand-to-hand fighting and expert marksmanship, not realistic skills for a computer geek.
Sure, the scenery is breathtaking, mostly Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Indonesian megalopolises that seem like real-life “Blade Runner” cities. It’s the human side of the story that’s missing in action. It’s all right to have a major chase or shootout in a large public gathering, but to have the locals ignore the XXL foreigner in a battle royal while they walk past him in the thousands is particularly awful.
While Wang and Tang play like they’re in the same movie (they have been before, co-starring in Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”), Hemsworth stares blankly at almost every development, including his sex scene, whose vibe, writing and performance simply are not cutting it.
For him, and even the revered Mann, this is a big misfire, a career steppingstone in the wrong direction.