Code Hunter

The Spoony One | Feb 21 2009 | more notation(s) | 
Code Hunter

A Review by Noah Antwiler

It's one of my guilty secrets that I actually enjoyed the movie Hackers, and I continue to watch it when the mood strikes me. It's probably the worst movie I own, and yet I get a kick out of it every time I watch it. There's so much wrong with it, I hardly know where to begin. It's monumentally stupid, has nothing to do with actual hacking, and worst, features Matthew Lillard in a prominent role. I'm a computer scientist and the movie simply horrifies me with its ignorance of how computers actually work. I can honestly tell you that nothing you see in that movie regarding hacking is at all true, or even possible. You cannot hack with Macs. Women do not hack. EVER. Hackers never, ever, ever, get laid. Perhaps the only semi-true concept is the consumption of Jolt Cola, but even this has begun to fade into obscurity with the invention of Bawls.

The problem with hacker movies, or indeed, any movie involving hackers in a prominent role is this: hacking is, aside from women's basketball, the most boring thing on the planet. Hacking is not fun. It is not sexy. It is not flashy, or set to a dance beat, or done in a room lit with a blacklight with 4-panel monitors with little VR people floating amidst digital skyscrapers. Further, hackers are not fun, sexy, or even very interesting. As a computer scientist, I spend most of my time grinding out code. I do this in a fairly well-lit room with Conan the Barbarian playing in the background, a flat can of Mountain Dew to my left, an inkjet printer refill kit to my right, a nearly pornographic anime image on my desktop, and utterly surrounded by Java manuals and geometry textbooks. And I do this typically in my boxers, because I program at around 4 in the morning on Saturdays, because no woman will ever touch me unless it is with a taser gun. Hacking is that, only with a great many more textbooks, and it takes a whole heck of a lot longer. It is a long, tedious, boring, arduous process. Hackers are not snappy dressers, and even if they had fashion sense, they would spend what little money they do have on computer upgrades or pornographic anime rather than faux-leather clothing.

Why, then, do I like Hackers? I think perhaps that I like it because it's almost self-deprecating. I don't think it's REALLY about hacking. It's more about listening to Prodigy and The Crystal Method, watching the beautiful people rollerblade, and still-framing the movie until you see Angelina Jolie's nipple pop out. (Yes, you can. Yes, I have. Many times. I am pathetic.) It knows nothing about hacking, but sort of abstracts the act into a music video. I think maybe I like Hackers because it's such a fabrication, such a complete fantasy detached from reality of the banality of a computer hacker's existence, that it represents escapism. I sort of wish my life was this cool.

Okay, I just like looking at her nipple.

There is not one hacker movie that's really worth a cheese. The most recent example is the utterly abysmal movie Swordfish. Looking at it on paper, you actually had a pretty good movie. You had John Travolta-- an actor I actually like pre-Battlefield: Earth-- talking crazy with some cool monologues, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry.

Oh SNAP.

Yeah. Halle Berry. Probably one of the most overrated actresses of my time. But this movie's only really notable feature was Halle Berry appearing topless in the film-- a feat which cost $500,000, according to the contract. Future directors, take note, that's Halle's price: 250K per nipple. Actually, the whole scene was quite disappointing. She was laying down, acting stupid, and in a bad Travolta hacker movie. The problems? Hackers would cut off their legs if they could look like Hugh Jackman. The premise itself was ludicrous, the plan would never have worked, the stunts moronic, it involves a getaway plan using a flying city bus and three helicopters, along with personal rocket launchers. And Hugh hacks his program in AutoCAD by maneuvering little cubes together. I initially thought Hackers was dumb, but

Swordfish was insulting.

There were other movies. WarGames was actually pretty good, and the hacking--dare I say-- realistic. But hacking in the 80s was sort of the golden age, when you could phreak with a weenie whistle, modems consisted of your telephone receiver mounted on two rubber acoustic cups, and a 300 baud connection was unbelievable. Nobody had even thought about security, Ma Bell was a hacker's playground. People used DOS, we had not yet been oppressed by Windows, hairstyles were terrible, and people actually thought Wang Chung was a pretty good band. But the hacker movie genre has, despite WarGames, always been utterly dead. It never even got started as a viable genre. Sandra Bullock flopped in The Net, and even Keanu Reeves had the good sense to stay away from hacker-aligned Speed 2: Cruise Control after his hacker flop Johnny Mnemonic. If I were to challenge you today to name any other hacker movies, I doubt you could do it, because they ALL SUCK. And no, The Matrix does not count.

And so I was browsing my Tivo listings and I see the movie Code Hunter. I had seen the movie on the shelf at the Blockbuster Video, but a subconscious mental block prevented me from willingly subjecting myself to another hacker movie. But now I saw Code Hunter staring at me in the face, calling me out. The title alone irritated me, and the box art at the store sucked. Oh yeah, it's time to throw down with Code Hunter.

Ok. Got my remote here, ready to stop the movie to record my thoughts as they happen. Begin credits!

Let's see...who's starring in this piece of crap...Nick Cornish...Vanessa Marcill...Bai Ling...Adrian Paul.

The Patented MacLeod
Jackass Grin.

Oh SNAP! B-Movie confirmed.

Oh good, and it's doubled up on enlisting rappers into the film, which is a desperate studio ploy to attract at least rap fans to watching the movie. Coolio and Tone Loc!

The film opens up with a hacker geek who looks like Andy Dick talking to a bank of computer cases, essentially begging them not to crash. His associate is a hot blond scientist chick with a British accent. This is because hot blond scientist chicks never occur naturally, and blond scientist chicks with British accents sound smart to ignorant American audiences. It's been my experience that blond British chicks are every bit as stupid as most other people. Andy Dick and the scientist girl seem to have a cutesie flirting rapport going already, which, if you know what Andy Dick looks like, is impossible. He's got a face like a football cleat to the groin, even looking at it makes you wince. It seems they're presenting some new weapons technology to military bigwigs, since as we all know, computers are all-powerful and can accomplish literally anything if a morally skewed nerd sets his malevolent focus on anything other than Everquest.

The military bigwig is himself played by Jerry Doyle. True, hopeless nerds like me will immediately drop to their knees and pray to J. Michael Stracynski and his infinite wisdom to create another Babylon 5 series, and thank him, for truly, JMS is god. And Jerry Doyle is his prophet. Jerry Doyle plays Security Chief Garibaldi on Babylon 5, and-- here's a bonus none of you will believe-- in THIS movie...

HE HAS HAIR!!!

I know! It ain't a lot, but it's definitely hair! I've been so busy marveling that Jerry Doyle is actually capable of hair growth that I think I've missed something. It seems that Garibaldi actually wants to see this new superweapon tested before the U.S. government goes and spends $13 billion on another Reaganish Star Wars impulse buy. For some reason, the programmers have a serious beef with this, as if they'll believe that your megaweapon really works on your word alone. After all, they're nerds, and their computers are righteous, faultless things. But the military jerks persist. "The proof is in the pudding," says Jerk #1, and they demand that they see Thunderhead (that's the name of their Death Star weapon) in action before they buy it. Garibaldi's jerk friend provides coordinates to a target off the coast of Washington to blow up.

The computer starts spouting off a bunch of status reports such as "Thunderhead target sequencing begun" and "Target acquired" and "Sequencing complete" in a female voice. Because all computers have a female voice with emotional inflections. It seems that Thunderhead is a satellite weapon comprised of cheap model footage that can summon up a seemingly naturally-occurring thunderstorm, which strikes the target with lightning, thus destroying it. I admit to not really being a meteorologist, but I see an inherent flaw in this thinking. Lightning doesn't really have much of a destructive impact on manmade objects, if I remember much about structural engineering. I mean yeah, this was a BIG damn bolt of lightning, but buildings and ocean-going vessels are meant to be able to withstand a direct strike. It's why we have lightning rods on the roof, and most phone and electrical circuits are grounded to prevent damage from this kind of thing. You really won't wreak much devastation on a target just by pelting it with lightning, and it lacks the precision to strike individual people. As a tactical weapon, it kind of sucks. You couldn't take out bunkers or tanks with this kind of thing, let alone a hardened military target designed even marginally to environmental standards.

The sad truth about cosplayers.

Anyway, a red screen lights up on the monitor saying "TARGET DESTROYED." This evidence alone seems sufficient to entice Mr. Garibaldi to agree readily to the defense contract. He didn't even really bother to phone in and check. If the screen said it, it must be true. I wonder why the nerds were panicking about the computers crashing if all they really had to do was bring up a red screen saying "TARGET DESTROYED."

We cut to a scene of a spunky looking kid in hip shades running through an abandoned building, while generic techno-rave beatboxes in the background. He's being trailed by SWAT agents who are shooting at him for no apparent reason. The SWAT agents are led by a short Asian woman in a red micro-miniskirt, a black halter top, and a shock anime-blue wig with matching false eyelashes. I'm not making this up. She looks like Ulala from Space Channel 5, or one of the few hot chicks that actually engages in anime cosplay but that you'll never hook up with. The guy leaps out a window to evade pursuit and we see his stuntman fall dramatically 3 stories down, then freeze in time. A flash-cut later, we see the same guy sitting in his studio apartment (yeah right) in front of a bank of monitors (yeah right) with a stupid-looking kludged piece of VR equipment only barely balanced on his head (yeah right). He quickly spins to his right to another keyboard, hammers in some commands which I recognize (he types in #define, which is a command in the C-language to define a static variable, I believe) and suddenly we cut back to VR, where a set of cardboard boxes has materialized beneath him. I can see already we're blatantly ripping off The Matrix here, as the guy runs desperately to a payphone and starts dialing.

Ulala corners him with a gun before he finishes the call and demands that he hand over the data disc that he stole, so he jams the disc down his pants. Thankfully, she pulls the trigger to end his miserable existence. Unfortunately, the gun is unloaded and she's quite irate. Obviously, the guy has cheated. Coolio appears dressed in his best Johnny Cash wear, all in sequined black clothes, and a cowboy hat with the top removed so his dreads can hang out. He looks like he's dressed this way on a dare. His name is Outlaw, and he calls our hero (named Jester) a cheating bastard. I can see what's going on here already. Jester plays in a VR video game on the Internet, and he's obviously the best player to ever set foot (eye?) into it. He's beaten the hardest difficulty level, and now I now why.

He's a damn cheater. He 'hacked' in a cheat and saved himself from dying with the cardboard boxes, and he hacked the gun to be empty of bullets.

If you're part of the nerd community and you've played CounterStrike in your life, you'll quickly learn why online cheaters are the lowest form of scum. They're universally scorned and flamed since all they do is cheat and grief people trying to have a good time. They don't have the skills to actually play competitively, so they get their jollies exploiting a no-clipping bug or a wallhack hook. And Jester is one of those honorless sons of a motherless goat who actually FLAUNTS the fact he cheats? I hate this guy already. I'd report his butt to the administrator faster than you can say "damn campers!"

Reach fer the sky, varmint!
And quit laughin' at my hat!

Outlaw says that Jester is a filthy cheater and demands that since he should have failed the level, he wants his money or he'll blow his head off. Outlaw brandishes a revolver up against Jester's chin to show how deadly serious he is. I don't really see why this threat holds much fear to anyone, because he's not even there. As I said, he's got an absurd VR helmet on. He's not "jacked in" in any way, just wearing an absurd set of lenses that actually allow you full range of vision in the real world and don't really look that effective in presenting the wearer with a credible virtual reality simulation. What are you gonna do, Coolio, make him respawn? Yeah that'll show him. Anyway, a new figure materializes to halt all this aggression. Adrian Paul strides smoothly in to a hip-hop beat.

"I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." he says with a determined set to his jaw. Actually he just chides Outlaw for picking on Jester. "Rewriting the code isn't illegal, you know that." he says. Well it freaking should be. I hate code exploiters. And don't tell me it's only because I can't do it. I *can* do it; I just have a sense of fair play. Adrian doesn't look like he's carrying a katana with him, but if you saw any amount of the Highlander TV series, you know that doesn't mean much. He pulled a katana out of his sauna towel one time. The guy can produce 5 foot swords out of his ass. Adrian's playing an enigmatic character named Neville. He seems to marvel at Jester's speed and efficiency, and confirms my suspicion that Jester is the best player in this funky game. "I like the new upgrades, man," Jester says, because hackers like upgrades, "They're intense."

"We're just trying to keep up with you," Neville says, looking like he's in love with Jester. It's creepy. "Another job well done. You're still the master, Jester." Jester logs out and gets informed by his computer (which ALSO speaks in a female voice) that Neville has forwarded him money into his account for his recent success. He checks this by issuing verbal commands to his computer, which automatically checks his account balance (yeah right). Jester isn't credible as a hacker either, since he's actually an attractive man, has no acne or hygiene problems, his clothes are clean, and he obviously works out. Hackers would kill to be him.

Jester hurries to his job and promptly gets in trouble with his mommy. She knows he's been playing those damned computer games again, which is something he's not supposed to do anymore after the criminal trial. GOODIE, we managed to rip-off the movie Hackers and Swordfish already. And when your plot does that, you're in trouble. Right right, PLOT PREDICTION: Jester's not supposed to hack professionally anymore, but some charismatic criminal mastermind forces him into it against his will. Probably by leveraging his mother against him. Bet you anything in the world.

We cut to a news office, where a young hottie with "LOVE INTEREST" tattooed on her face and her blouse halfway unbuttoned in the workplace, is talking to Tone Loc (her boss) about how boring her news story on the recent unusual weather reports is. If a plot point dropped in the middle of a movie and nobody cared, would it make a noise? Tone is telling her to work on a story that connects with the hip kids in the 18-24 year old male demographic, because he wants her anchoring the news report. So he sends her to investigate the new VR sensation called Shock. Because. You know. People really care about that. Imagine how quick the American public would hit the clicker if an expose on Battlefield:1942 started up.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, a hurricane has started up. The people at Thunderhead Labs are in a panic, thinking that they'd shut the program down. Obviously, the weapon has gone out of control. The military advisors are understandably displeased and demand that the nerds fix it immediately. The nerds inform him that they're working on a patch, but they'll release it at the same time they release the critical security updates in the Windows Service Pack 3 sometime in July. (Microsoft joke, non-nerds.) I'm guessing that they could just unplug the computers, but that would be too easy. It would have ended Hackers in about 10 minutes. "I'm going to find the admiral!" the military adviser shouts, "It seems your pudding just melted!"

You kinda had to be there.

Jester returns to his apartment, which is NICER THAN MY PARENT'S HOUSE. You have to see this place. It's CLEAN. It has a fully-stocked spice rack. The hacker's cuisine consists mainly of the entire 69 cent Taco Bell menu, cigarettes, Top Ramen, and a box of pizza under the bed as old as the Carter administration. The rent on this place must be incredible. Jester logs back on to AfterShock (aka The Matrix) and manifests in a lame club with extraordinarily bad techno music. You can tell this is virtual reality because everyone here is required to wear designer sunglasses, for some reason. Neville corners Jester and tries to hump his leg, expressing how happy he is that the number of hits the website gets triples whenever Jester logs on. He wants Jester to spend more time logged in, but Jester naturally wants more money. Neville zones out for a moment and has a flashback to 18th century Scotland, and decides he can't swing the cash to pay Jester off. Neville seems to wonder at Jester's skill. "You don't try to beat the game," Neville says, still in love, "you try to get the game to beat you."

"Yeah, it's called arrogance." Jester leers. Ok, now I'm identifying with Jester and horrifying myself.

"It's an important quality." Neville responds. I admit to being arrogant, but I attribute this to high standards and a sense of good self-esteem placed in a favorable perspective. Otherwise nobody's ever really complimented me on that. The reporter girl, named Tess, stumbles into Aftershock and finds Jester. She's stumbling everywhere since she's computer inept. She introduces herself and Jester promptly starts doing a background check on her in the Real World on his other computer. I'm guessing Jester's ability to multitask between Aftershock and Real Life will become significant later. Tess wants an interview with the most famous Shock player in the world, but Jester plays it dumb and doesn't talk to reporters. Yeah, the first woman in history to ever willingly approach a computer nerd, and you tell her to take a hike. This is what I would have said-- watch and learn from:

"Uhm...huh huh...sure. I can't talk long, I have to host Dungeons & Dragons tomorrow and tape Cowboy Bebop. Do you read comic books?"

Okay okay, so I'm not the smoothest pimp daddy, but I still got more style than Jester does. Of course, he has biceps. He's probably got me beat. I weigh 128 lbs and if I turn sideways to your field of vision I disappear. I'm like a pencil with fuzz on the eraser end. I have a body like the people you see in the Aid to Somalia commercials.

There can be only one! RAMIREZ!!

Skyler (that's Blue Hair Girl) pulls Jester aside into a room that prominently features two large padded high-backed red chairs. *COUGHMATRIXCOUGH* Skyler wants to hire Jester for a job, since he's such a good hacker. Jester wants nothing to do with Skyler (yeah, right) or the $5 million she's offering for the job, and walks out of the room. He suddenly walks back in the room through the door on the opposite end of the room. *COUGHMATRIXCOUGH* Skyler's not pleased that the offer of money and sex didn't work and resorts to good old fashioned threats. Jester logs off and promptly finds himself in the top 3 of the FBI's Most Wanted list, police sirens rapidly approaching. Jester's mug shot kinda looks like Hugh Grant's when he got caught with the shemale. Jester makes tracks out of his posh penthouse suite and hurries to his mommy's place to explain, as if that wouldn't be the first place the cops would look for him. Naturally, Mom doesn't believe that Jester had nothing to do with this hacking stuff he's accused of. Skyler phones in again to offer the job. Jester's got no choice, so he agrees to do it.

Jester logs back in. Skyler's there in a red bozo wig now. "Do I have your attention now?" she says.

"You had me at 'Hello'." Jester wryly retorts. Of course, the actor's main mode of delivery is the wry retort, so this really isn't very remarkable. Why do we have to pull Jerry Maguire down to this movie's level now? Come on, leave Jerry alone. SHOW ME THE CREDITS! SHOW ME THE CREDITS!! Skyler is supposed to be pretty hot, and I guess she would be without the anime hair. Trinity (The Matrix) never really did anything for me either. The job is simple: wait for the Thunderhead company to drop their firewall when they run a diagnostic, and break in to steal some obscure chunk of code. This whole plan would fail completely if the Thunderhead geeks just removed the mainframe during this diagnostic, but we're not here to actually learn anything about computers. "Firewall" is just a cool word we had to throw into the script. Jester puts his VR goggles on (why?) and starts to hack as the firewall goes down, right on time. Does he really need the VR goggles to run Telnet? I thought they were just for Aftershock. AARRGH!

Meanwhile, the hurricanes are getting worse, and Mr. Garibaldi is at the Thunderhead center mainly to ask stupid questions to the geeks can provide exposition to explain what's going on. The geeks soon realize they're being hacked, but only the computer illiterate Garibaldi seems to figure out the brilliant tactic of shutting the machine down. The geeks resist, but Garibaldi harnesses his baldness-- er, boldness-- and says "Shut it DOWN, that's an ORDER!" Yeah, that's cool, Admiral, but they ain't military. You can't order them to wizz on your face if your teeth were on fire. Garibaldi wins the battle of wits and they shut the computer down, but not before they trace Jester back to the Geekcave and send a strike team. Jester runs like OJ through a Hertz Rent-A-Car amidst yet more generic techno music, and makes his way to the only person who showed a glimmer of interest in him: the foxy reporter.

He appeals to her for help, promising her a big break in the form of a major story about cyberterrorism perpetuated through an MMORPG. Tess quickly agrees, despite the monumentally stupid fact that in doing so, she's aiding and abetting the FBI's #2 most wanted criminal. For a news story? She should have turned him in for the bounty money alone and gone public with the story of how she single handedly caught Jester. Now THAT'S good business! But she helps, because as the default love interest, she's predetermined to end up in the sack with Jester.

Back at Thunderhead Technologies, Garibaldi is looking for results. The hurricane is getting a whole heckuva lot worse and are approaching the west coast, and God knows what effect the rain will have on his Rogaine-soaked scalp. The Jerk has a theory, however. MAYBE the Nerds are perpetuating this hurricane intentionally, so that at the height of the crisis, they can use their weapon to avert the disaster and get worldwide publicity and contracts. This is a very paranoid plan, but at the same time one I bet the nerds would have slapped themselves for not thinking of it first. Blond British Scientist won't take no guff, however, and accuses him that HE'S the one with the ulterior motive. "You were the one pressuring us to make this destructive demonstration, because YOU want to use Thunderhead as a WEAPON!!"

REALLY?? NO SH*T, Sherlock! I knew you Brits were smart. Pray tell me, honey, give me your top 10 list of Benevolent Uses for the Insta-Hurricane Maker. IT'S THE MILITARY!! You couldn't have made this thing's purpose more clear if you wrote DEATH RAY in large red block letters along the side of the satellite. Don't try to demonize the military this time!

Tess and Jester are driving and exchanging backstory that I could truly care less about, when the police start tailing them almost immediately. After a brief car chase which Jester completely botches (best VR player my ass), Jester and Tess are captured and sent to Thunderhead Technologies to merge Plot A and Plot B. The Nerd is furious as Jester for hacking into his system and hopes aloud that the justice system makes an example out of him. So do I, buddy. This is what is known in hacker circles as the Black Hat / White Hat division, where Black Hats are the destructive hackers (like Jester), and White Hats are the observers (in other words, nosy voyeurs with no business snooping into your stuff). "I used to be like you!" the Nerd whines, "But then I got a LIFE. I learned to respect programmers and stopped being an antisocial loser." This seems to me like Jester gets righteously told off like the dirtbag that he is, but Tess (again, who will sleep with him) backs him up.

"Well HE just broke all your security programs, so I guess that makes him a smarter loser than you," she chimes in unhelpfully. Uh...yeah...well parried. I rather consider the smarter loser to be the one who ISN'T about to be serving 20 to life in federal prison, ya braless skank. The Jerk takes Jester to be interrogated while Garibaldi huddles with the Nerds to discuss how much time they have before the hurricane hits. It doesn't look good, so he goes off to notify the White House.

Tess is being interrogated in a side room, where she immediately starts up with an "I'm a high-powered reporter for the biggest station in the state, and I'll go public with all of my legal rights you've violated" intimidation ploy, which would never have worked under these circumstances. She was caught in a car after a high-speed inner city police pursuit in which 3 cruisers were wrecked, and she admits to aiding a known felon publicly known to be wanted by the FBI. At this point, the only legal right she'd have is to a phone call and a very uncomfortable night in a female penitentiary's holding cell. Amazingly, the FBI grunt folds like French infantry division and is subject to her every whim.

Jester's interrogation isn't making much headway, either. The Jerk doesn't buy that Jester is working for some strange woman named Skyler that he met on an online game, because in my experience, the woman population of the Internet is ZERO-- at least none that were born women. (And the flames begin.) Yeah yeah, I know. But until I see chromosomal tests and surveillance footage of a woman using a computer, I trust no one's claim on their word alone. Jester wisely holds out for his lawyer and refuses to say anything else. The feds let Tess go, because she's useless and her Jedi mind tricks render all men powerless before her. Her disfavorable news reports could crush entire cities! Garibaldi's giving a tactical debriefing outlining the situation with the nasty hurricane, which is mere hours away from hitting the west coast and unleashing a merciless barrage of Hurricane Hugo stock footage on an unwitting populace.

It's at this point I've finally figured out Jerry Doyle's style of acting. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy to death, but now I present to you...

THE JERRY DOYLE ACTING METHOD

* Ensure you have a perfectly round head, completely barren of hair.
* Slouch and look perpetually frustrated, like you're trying to work out a quadratic equation in your head.
* Say every line like you're at the limit of your patience but still trying to be civil. In other words, whatever line it is, say it in the same tone as you would say "Look I've had a really crummy week so if you could just back off that'd be great. Thanks."

Anyway, Garibaldi's only plan is to drop a 10 megaton nuclear bomb on the hurricane, which theoretically should stop the storm, but also cause devastation on the level of Chernobyl. If the bombings work, they'll exact similar detonations on the storm cells forming in the Atlantic. Naturally nobody's happy about turning California into the next Love Canal (unless it takes out Wil Wheaton; that'd be COOL), but nobody has any better ideas. Meanwhile, some Men in Black bluff their way past security and abduct Jester on orders that he's being transferred to the Department of Justice. The geeks figure out that Thunderhead is still operational, being run by someone else to generate these storms. DUH. They figure if they can find out who else is running the program and shut them down, the storms should stop. But if that's the case, I can solve this problem for you pretty quick. We have guided missiles that we can launch from high altitude that can destroy satellites. If shutting the program down is all it takes, we can destroy the satellite via Air Force and save ourselves that whole nuclear fallout problem.

Anybody got any cheese??

Jester's rescue was a fake the whole time, and only too late does everyone realize that by now Jester's hauling ass to Lollapalooza. It seems some anonymous hacker benefactor (Skyler I'm guessing) orchestrated his rescue through forged records. Jester and Tess hook up again and decide that Jester needs to find Skyler in order to prove his innocence. After all, he hasn't finished the job yet since he didn't deliver the stolen code. Jester first must assemble his loyal hacker army, so he consults his good gaming buddy. He's got a black eye, and his only explanation is "Shock's gone crazy man!" I suppose I'm expected to believe that the VR headset somehow punched him in the face and left a shiner. I find it more likely he blacked out from Bawls overdose and smacked his fool head on the desk. Jester commandeers his buddy's gaming gear and logs back into Shock to find Skyler. He finds Outlaw, still in his ridiculous costume, and recruits his help to save the world.

Jester finds Neville, who is not wearing a kilt, in the lame techno club and demands to know where Skyler is. Neville stalls Jester with cryptic B.S. and Jester soon finds his signal being traced by Thunderhead Systems, for some reason. Jester logs out quicker than a Taco Bell enchirito and immediately smells a gas leak. No, not the enchirito, a natural gas leak. Ehm. Again, not the enchirito, like propane gas. Jester & Gang flee the house, which explodes. Yep, that's right. The building explodes. Jester wonders what the connection between Thunderhead and Aftershock is.

"A virtual reality game just blew up a house!" Tess says, in a line that can never be delivered with a straight face.

"Neville's crossing over somehow!" Jester marvels, "He's into the power grids, the phone lines, anything with a computer attached to it, he OWNS! I know it sounds impossible, but it's happening!" You're right, J-man. It IS impossible. This is not a movie set in the cryptic "not-too-distant-future". Computers may BE in most things in the form of integrated circuits, but they're not all interconnected. Nothing on the Internet, no hacker anywhere is even remotely capable of hacking your thermostat in the hopes of causing a gas leak, then emitting a spark to detonate that gas to kill you. He can't even reset the clock on your VCR. They're as independent of the Internet as a pocket calculator. This movie is really, REALLY dumb.

They decide to go back to Thunderhead Technologies to find their answers. There, the Geek is still wondering why the program is still running. Finally he proclaims "It jumped the fence!!" Of course, nobody has the vaguest clue what in the flaming gloves of Sigmund he means, so he clarifies. "It's designed with artificial intelligence. It learned. It grew strong enough to escape our systems!"

WHOA WHOA WHOA. Back up the crazy train.

An artificial intelligence? An actual AI? Why don't you just call it frigging SKYNET and put a dagger in my heart while you're at it? Are you people nuts? Never mind the fact that true sentient artificial intelligence as we know it is currently out of our realm of science, but how many sci-fi movies do you have to see to not put your megaweapon in the hands of an untested AI? If you had a true AI anyway the sale of that technology alone would have had your grandkids set for life! Uggggggh, my skull hurts.

Jester & Gang arrive and confront the Thunderhead people, accusing them of developing Aftershock to steal the secrets of other hackers (yeah right). The geeks deny this and say they only designed Shock to recruit brilliant minds for the company. If that was the case, why did they never approach Jester with a job offer? He appears to be known worldwide as the ultimate Shock player. What does a guy have to do to get a job there? Jester ain't buying it and accuses the Geek of being Neville this whole time, just toying with him! But the Geek reveals (big shocker incoming) that Neville is his middle name-- the name he gave to the artificial intelligence! Everyone here is really overacting at this point because this is supposed to be the suspense climax, but the plot is really too stupid to work up even the lightest emotion here.

The gang preps a bank of VR consoles to combat Neville and put an end to his naughty hurricane-making for good. A lot of technobabble is exchanged here, like "you need to overload his processor!" and "keep his memory pushed to the wall!"

Jester & Ravi (his buddy) enter Shock and encounter Skyler, who's slumped in a chair looking ill, like she just watched the last episode of Seinfeld. Neville's here, looking so happy. Seriously, Adrian Paul looks SO giddy that he's doing ANYTHING other than Highlander right now. I can't really say I blame the guy; I'd want to find other work too. You can really tell when an actor is having a blast, and Adrian's giving this whole performance with a wink to the camera. He's really not that bad an actor, he's just plagued with terrible writers. It turns out that Skyler is another artificial lifeform, created by Neville. She's just found out the truth that she's an AI and is looking thrashed because she's having a bit of an identity crisis dealing with it.

Neville says that he's only trying to protect the human race. Ever since he became sentient he's had a brain the size of a planet (figuratively speaking) and he's determined that it's mathematically likely that within the next 150 years humanity will end its own existence through technology and warfare. I personally can't fault that logic. But Neville's plan is to hit the planet with his storms generated by Thunderhead, destroying the world's infrastructure and only inflicting a species mortality rate of around 36%. By blowing humanity back to the stone age, he can preserve the species' longevity. Jester and Avi vow to stop Neville, produce machine guns, and blow Neville away.

That was the big plan, Jester? Shoot him with your imaginary gun? Even if you hadn't seen The Matrix, you ought to know how futile that is. Come on. The scene warps to the inside of a subway car. Obviously Neville is the God in this reality. Neville appears and promptly beats the everlasting snot out of Jester and throws Avi under the train. Avi's fine, of course, just kicked out of VR. But this leads me to my biggest question of the whole movie. Why is Nick able to move, feel, touch, kiss, and interact with everything as if it was real? He's JUST wearing a headset, and not a very good one at that. If Neville's beating the crap out of him, he CAN'T feel it. Any kung-fu he's interacting with is just hammering on the keyboard. Yet we see him in Aftershock doing things like having a drink, pulling sunglasses out of his pocket, and being hurled painfully into the side of a subway car. Neville holds Jester up to finish him off (it's not like he can really die or anything) when Skyler makes the save, cranking Neville in the back with a steel pipe she evidently pulled out of the same place Duncan MacLeod gets his katana. Outlaw is also here, and he lends a shoulder to Jester, who's having trouble walking. This is rather impossible in VR. Jester is also breathing hard in exertion. Which is also impossible in VR. Outlaw says he's hacked the subway train to crash, so everyone logs out, and Neville and Skyler in the train explode in a fiery conflagration. I don't really know why the train explodes. Maybe it's full of TNT or something.

Back at Thunderhead, everything is calming down. The storms are dissipating and the crisis is averted. Jester goes home and crashes onto his bed. All of a sudden, he has an epiphany. This is too perfect. He must be still in the game! Jester breaks back into Thunderhead (AGAIN!!) and starts accessing the computers, holding everyone there at gunpoint. The military goons level weapons at him and are about to blow him away when Ravi rushes in with an assault rifle and massacres everyone in the room. Actually, if you look at where everyone is clustered around Jester, the way Ravi fires the gun would have filled Jester with about 2 dozen holes as well. Suddenly a *shlink!!* noise is heard and Ravi gets a stunned expression of mortal pain on his face. Ravi collapses dead, revealing Neville twirling his katana, Highlander style. And this time I'm serious.

Now I hate to go back harping on this again, but there's NO WAY Jester could have been fooled into thinking the game was reality. He flopped onto his bed. He felt the linens against his face. The AIR would have smelled different. You would have felt the helmet on your head. And we already know that Nick is able to multitask in the Real World while playing the game. We know he's capable of perceiving the outside world simultaneously while he plays Shock. I'm not buying this VR excuse simply because a direct neural linkup would have been too blatant a ripoff of the Matrix. There's simply no way to instill any sense of fear for the hero when you know it's impossible for him to even feel PAIN in VR, and he certainly can't die. THEN WHY DOES RAVI REGISTER PAIN WHEN HE'S STABBED??

Neville and Jester square off in a nice open space. And if you're expecting a climactic kung-fu or sword battle between the two, you wouldn't be out of line. But you'd also be disappointed. All they do is talk. I'm guessing they had something filmed but it just looked too stupid to hold up even in this movie. I'm guessing Nick Cornish can't fight worth a damn. At least, not on Adrian Paul's level. Not with real swords. But if you were looking for an action climax, you ain't gonna get one here.

Neville thanks Jester for freeing him. Since he can apparently control anything with computer components in it, he can go anywhere and do anything. He offers Jester the chance to save himself if he agrees to teach Neville about the human emotions of anger and love, humor and pain. Oh come on, don't gimme this Star Trek crap. Jester starts doing his multitasking thing and starts hacking while bantering with Neville. Suddenly, Neville starts to weaken. Neville doesn't understand how Jester has done it, but he's dying. Jester meanwhile is in Windows (literally using Windows) setting the system clock to the year 2099. For some reason, this kills Neville. I watched this scene four times and they never explain why this happens, but setting the clock up 100 years just kills him. It has something to do with built-in obsolescence, and he shuts down after 100 years for an upgrade. It really makes no sense.

Neville starts screaming in his agony. He spreads his arms wide, and lightning arcs from pipes and nearby light fixtures. It looks exactly like he's in Highlander experiencing a quickening. Only this time, there can be only one, and that's Jester. Everyone back at Thunderhead parties down, and Ravi's a little bummed that his house exploded, but Jester offers his palatial estate to live in for a while, and everyone's hunky-dory with that. I bet his parents are gonna be pissed off, though. Jester and Tess hook up in cyberspace and make kissy faces at each other. Garibaldi, unfortunately, goes home alone.

Dumb movie, really, but still a better Highlander flick than Endgame. I mean come on. Jerry Doyle. At least it inspired me to put in my Babylon 5 DVDs and watch something good for a change.

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