||[Nov. 4th, 2009|12:38 am]
Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar a little over a decade ago. Around that same time Val Kilmer, himself coming off an Oscar nomination, was starring as Batman in the highest grossing blockbuster of its year. Less than a decade ago Cuba Gooding Jr. and Val Kilmer were on the Hollywood A-list. Today they would consider themselves lucky to get on a list in Hollywood, any list. HARDWIRED marks the ill-fated convergence of two actors whose decade of poor career choices (and in Kilmer's case, reports of being impossible to work with) has left them floundering in the doldrums of direct-to-DVDdom once restricted to over-the-hill action movie stars of the Nineties. I would say something about how the mighty have fallen but given some of the god awful movies these two have made in the past ten years (Cuba Gooding Jr. in particular has no one to blame but himself) this all seems like natural progression.
Gooding Jr. and Kilmer have been brought together by the writer of MANSQUITO and the director of CUBE ZERO to star in a low budget high tech sci-fi thriller crafted from the residue of every cyberpunk movie Keanu Reeves has ever starred in. In all fairness, HARDWIRED is fairly competently written and directed. The problem is that competence cannot overcome just how unoriginal and unexciting it is. Nearly every aspect of the plot feels stale and there are action sequences so underwhelming I found myself wondering if the director was aware these were supposed to be action sequences.
Set in a not too distant future, I know you're going to be surprised to hear this given how rarely Hollywood goes this route, but the planet and its populace is ruled by greedy corporations. There is a clever bit in the opening credits showing famous landmarks with recognizable corporate logos painted on them. The McDonalds Golden Arches adorn the Hoover Dam. A Gatorade logo is scribbled across the Taj Mahal. The Statue of Liberty's torch now flashes a holographic Playboy bunny logo. Trojan Condoms now sponsors the Washington Monument. Then the actual movie begins and it's all downhill from there. Never a good sign when the highlight of a motion picture involves a few instances of Photoshopping.
Lucas Gibson (Cuba Gooding Jr., who appears to be aging badly and rapidly) is an ex-soldier critically injured in a car accident that kills his pregnant wife. He awakens with no memory, only alive because his sister allowed the Hope Industries to plant an experimental life-saving microchip in his head.
Val Kilmer looks far less like the fresh-faced Val Kilmer seen on the DVD art and more like a bloated, coked-out version of himself on the constant verge of sweating coifed with this bizarre hairdo that straddles the fence between surfer dude and caveman. Kilmer is the villainous corporate kingpin Randolph Hope - or Hope's right hand man. I got bored and confused after awhile in regards to his identity. Mostly, I just didn't care. I doubt Kilmer much cared either. I'd reckon 90% of his scenes are just him from the head up on a view screen. Kilmer didn't just phone his performance in, in the spirit of this high-tech future, he webcammed it in.
Randolph Hope is the wealthiest, most powerful man in the world and as we all know from watching crummy movies that the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet are always looking for ways to become even more wealthy and powerful. Gibson has been chosen as a test patient for this chip they plan to market as "an upgrade for people's minds" that is really just a trillion dollar scheme to sell advertising space in people's subconscious while also forcing implantees to buy more consumer goods.
Remember that episode of Futurama where Frye was being freaked out by corporations transmitting commercials directly into his dreams? Gibson spends the early portion of HARDWIRED being tormented by pop-up ads that look like flesh and blood people pitching products and the only way he can make them leave him alone is to either buy or steal the product. That could have been the basis for an acerbic science fiction farce, but HARDWIRED insists on being JOHNNY MNEMATRIX GOES FREEJACK.
Gibson finds himself caught up in a conspiracy he has to crack before the powers that be detonate the chip in his brain. Fortunately, there's a resistance group of young keyboard jockeys with colored hair led by Michael Ironside out there fighting the power. They want to help Gibson get his memory back and hope his military skills will come in handy in order to finally strike back at Hope Industries and undo the stranglehold their form of ruthless cyber-capitalism has on our freedom.
A lengthy scene of an amnesiac movie character getting their memory back when we in the audience already know everything he is remembering does not make for compelling drama.
Stale subject matter, pedestrian storytelling, and lifeless suspense builds to an anti-climactic open ending that hints at a sequel that would be based around Cuba Gooding Jr. waging cyber warfare with Lance Henriksen. HARDWIRED: REWIRED? No thanks.
"You ruined my life," declares a corporate henchman to Lucas Gibson. "You deleted mine," responds Gibson. Might I suggest you delete HARDWIRED from your movie-watching queue before it ruins your night.