Frame rating: ‘Hackers’ cracks the code of the good ‘bad’ movie

A woman leans on a man's shoulder, staring straight ahead. The background has a series of 1's and 0's.
(Gerrit Punt • The Student Life)

If you ever interact with me in any capacity, then there’s a good chance at some point I’ll ask you if you’ve seen a film called “Hackers.” If you’re a cool, reasonable person, then there’s a good chance you’ll respond with, “No. I have not. Please, tell me more. I am very eager to hear your thorough and expansive thoughts on this movie.”

If you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear me talk about “Hackers” before and now suddenly feel overcome with sadness, do not fret. I have now decided to bless you with a taste of my thorough and expansive thoughts on this movie.

For those poor souls who have yet to be touched by its light, “Hackers” is a 1995 crime thriller masterpiece directed by Iain Softley and written by Rafael Moreu, who I can only assume is a 13-year-old boy wearing fingerless gloves and a backwards cap. It stars Jonny Lee Miller (a.k.a. the guy from “Trainspotting”) and Angelina Jolie in her very first Hollywood role.

The film follows a gang of high school hackers who find themselves wrapped up in a white-collar conspiracy involving a malicious virus, a fleet of oil-tankers and a villain named “The Plague” who looks like a vampire party magician and travels exclusively by skateboard.

“Hackers” has everything: rollerblading away from the authorities, intense hacking duels, Matthew Lillard. It’s a product of its time in the very best way possible, a magnificent little time capsule from an era when most people didn’t really understand computers but thought they were the neatest things around.

The style is impeccable. It absolutely oozes with edgy mid ’90s counterculture raditude. (That’s radness plus attitude for those not up to speed. I coined that, no matter what Weezer says.) The world of “Hackers” is filled with rebellious tech-smart youths with names like “Crash Override” and “Acid Burn” who wear leather jackets and hang out in seedy underground hacker nightclubs. It is exactly as fun as it sounds.

Matthew Lillard has four ponytails and wears incredibly oversized The Velvet Underground tank tops and little round sunglasses. Does it get any cooler? (That was rhetorical. It doesn’t.)

Like everything else in this movie, the writing is off the wall. I am thoroughly convinced the screenplay was written by a man entirely unfamiliar with human conversation and the concept of subtlety. What other film gives you such killer lines as “There is no right and wrong. There’s only fun and boring” and “I hope you don’t screw like you type”? The answer is none. No other movies give you that kind of experience.

If you couldn’t tell from the classy dialogue, “Hackers” doesn’t qualify as a “good” movie. Its 31 percent rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes is a pretty fair assessment. It is cliched, dated and over-the-top corny. Yet, it is also one of my absolute all-time favorite films. The first time I watched it I thought it was ironically “so bad it’s good,” but at this point my fondness for this film is entirely earnest.

Generally, I like to think I have refined taste. I enjoyed “Drive My Car” quite a bit and I always spell “theatre” the British way (when I’m not referring to it as “the cinema,” of course). I’d be lying, however, if I said that watching “Hackers” hasn’t led to some of my most cherished movie memories — and I’m not even the tiniest bit ashamed about it.

As satisfying as it is to engage with a film that is truly beautifully made, there is something to be said about sitting around with a couple of friends and laughing so hard that you have to pause the movie. There is an undeniable artistry to the good “bad” movie. Sometimes, a film’s most egregious flaws are drowned out by sheer, sincere enjoyability, and, in the very best “bad” films, those egregious flaws are transformed into incredible strengths. 

After all, a film that is accidentally much funnier than it means to be is a whole lot more enjoyable than something that wants to be fun but isn’t. Sometimes the mood strikes to watch a bunch of poorly written malcontents hack into a supercomputer, and who’s to say that desire shouldn’t be acted upon? (Another rhetorical. The answer is nobody.)

Good movies are great, but there is more than enough room in the balanced film diet for movies like “Hackers.” If you have a guilty pleasure movie in your life, whether it be “Hackers,” “Dune” (1984) or — God forbid — “Dune (2021),” I urge you to leave your guilt at the door.

If you don’t have a movie like this in your life, you really should find one (and you should start with “Hackers”).

Gerrit Punt PO ’24 is a Matthew Lillard enthusiast and infamous “Dune” disliker. He is not an elite hacker, much to his chagrin, but he can type at 80 words per minute if he really focuses.

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