Sunday, November 4, 2018

Hardwired (2009)

Welcome to a cyberpunky, corporate-owned future, where even the Pyramids have an ad banner stuck on them. Former special forces badass Luke Gibson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) has relaxed quite nicely into civilian life. His wife and he are clearly happy, and a child’s going to pop any day now. Alas, their car is hit by a truck, killing his wife and child. Because his insurance very suddenly expires, things wouldn’t look terribly great for Luke’s survival either, but a couple of corporate goons working for tech company high-up Virgil (Val “Doesn’t give a shit” Kilmer) convince his surgeon to save our hero by hardwiring an illegal experimental chip into his brain, as per the film’s title.

The procedure does indeed save Luke’s life, but he also loses large parts of his memory and starts to see things that suggest the chip is beaming ads right into his brain, a prospect that would most probably convince ad executives in our world to break a few laws, too. Worse, there’s also a kill switch installed that’ll blow up his head when he gets too uppity.

Fortunately, the mandatory semi-heroic group of hackers – tough yet avuncular Hal (Michael Ironside!), his paraplegic hacker son Keyboard (Chad Krowchuk), and the adorably named Punk Red (a pre-Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany) and Punk Blue (Juan Riedinger) – hack into Luke’s brain to for some well-needed ad-blocking and recruit him to their cause by showing him rage-inducing pictures of the family he lost. Turns out a multinational corporation is no match for badass Cuba Gooding Jr. and a couple of hackers with idiotic names.

Fun fact: I just love the direct to home video action movie phase of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career much more than most of what he did in his Oscar-baiting time. As I have mentioned before, the wonderful thing about Gooding in this context is that he doesn’t act like a guy who is slumming at all, but applies his not inconsiderable talents fully to whatever bizarre crap the film at hand asks of him. Consequently, Gooding plays the silly bits, the trite bits, and the parts where he interacts with the horror of the ads beamed into his brain totally serious, with admirable professionalism, really making much of what we see doubly enjoyable. His performance – and those of the cast of fresh young actors and low budget veteran aces like the always great Ironside – stand in extreme contrast to Val Kilmer’s usual pay check grab. One could have put his absurd wig onto a life-sized doll and put his dialogue through a computer and have gotten the same performance for considerable less money. Fortunately, Kilmer isn’t actually doing much, so his lazy diva crap isn’t doing too much damage beyond adding one more embarrassment to a career that could have been great.

Anyway, while the plot is obviously silly, there’s quite a bit more to enjoy here than bashing Kilmer and watching Gooding and co. Director Ernie Barbarash is certainly one of the more talented people working in the direct to your couch action space, here as usual demonstrating a sense of pacing that’s good enough to convince a viewer there’s more action happening in the movie than there actually is. The action sequences that are there are indeed fine, mind you.

What’s most fun about the film – at least to me – is its somewhat early 80s Corman-esque sense of sledgehammer satire. Luke’s brain ads are truly hilarious, as are the branded landmarks in the intro and many another idea of the sort. Plus, who doesn’t like a movie that’s so down on ads?

There’s also something to be said for the somewhat thrown together look of Hardwired’s near future that mixes the mildly science fictional with the grubbily contemporary as of its making, and a handful of dubious aesthetic ideas, and probably ends up on a more realistic look for its future than the completely designed one of a film with a budget would have been. After all, whose outer reality consists exclusively out of objects made during the last two or three years?

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