Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary)
Angelina Jolie (The Changeling)
Jesse Bradford (Swimfan)
Matthew Lillard (Scream)
Laurence Mason (The Crow)
Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit)
Alberta Watson (La Femme Nikita)
Penn Jillette (Sabrina: TTW)
Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives)
In 1988, 11-year-old Dade “Zero Cool” Murphy is arrested and charged with crashing 1,507 computer systems in a single day and causing a single-day 7-point drop in the New York Stock Exchange. His family is fined $45,000 for the events and he is banned from using computers or touch-tone telephones until he is 18 years old. Seven years later, Dade (Jonny Lee Miller), is now living with his divorced mother in New York City. On Dade’s 18th birthday, he receives a computer and uses social engineering to hack into a local television station’s computer network, changing the current TV program to an episode of The Outer Limits. However, Dade’s intrusion is countered by another hacker (handle “Acid Burn”) on the same network, and they briefly converse, with Dade identifying himself by a new alias: “Crash Override”.Dade enrolls in a local high school (for which Stuyvesant High School is used as the filming location) where he meets Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie) who pranks Dade by claiming that there’s a pool on the roof of the school. Ramon “The Phantom Phreak” Sanchez (Renoly Santiago) observes Dade accessing the school network during computer class to put himself in the same English class as Kate, and invites him to a hacker nightclub, Cyberdelia, where Dade beats Kate’s high score in the Wipeout arcade game. Soon after, Dade exacts revenge for the earlier prank by scheduling a test of the school’s sprinkler system the next day. Dade begins integrating himself into Phreak’s circle of hacker friends: Emmanuel “Cereal Killer” Goldstein (Matthew Lillard), Paul “Lord Nikon” Cook (Laurence Mason) (so named for his photographic memory), and Joey Pardella (Jesse Bradford), an aspiring novice hacker without an alias. At a party, Dade learns that Kate is “Acid Burn”, the hacker that kicked him out of the TV network earlier.Meanwhile, Joey, out to prove his skills, successfully breaks into “The Gibson”, an Ellingson Mineral Company supercomputer. He attempts to download a garbage file as proof of his feat, but his mother disconnects his computer so he’ll sleep, leaving Joey with a fragmented file. However, prior to Joey’s disconnection, the company’s IT employee Hal (Penn Jillette) detects this unauthorized entry and summons computer security officer Eugene “The Plague” Belford (Fisher Stevens), a former hacker. While going through the files, Plague realizes the garbage file being downloaded is a worm he inserted to defraud Ellingson. The Plague pretends the hackers are to blame and enlists the US Secret Service to recover the file, claiming it is the code to a computer virus (named “Da Vinci” for an image of the Vitruvian Man that accompanies it) that will capsize the company’s oil tanker fleet. In fact, The Plague had inserted the virus as a red herring to cover for his worm.Soon after, Joey is arrested and his computer is searched, but the Secret Service doesn’t find anything, as Joey had hidden the disk containing the files. In response, Dade and Kate decide to settle their disagreements with a bet, with Dade choosing a date with Kate as his prize and Kate electing to have Dade perform menial computing tasks. The hacking duel focuses on harassing Secret Service Agent Richard Gill (Wendell Pierce), “Hacker enemy number one”, who was involved in Joey’s arrest. After various pranks including canceling Gill’s credit cards, creating a fake embarrassing personal ad in Gill’s name, fabricating a criminal record, and changing his payroll status to “deceased”, the duel remains in a tie status.After being released on parole, Joey reveals the disk to Phreak in a public park; but they quickly realize that they are being followed by the Secret Service. The next day, Phreak is arrested and uses his phone call to inform Kate that he hid the disk in a boys’ bathroom at school. That evening, Kate and Cereal Killer ask Dade for his help; but he declines, stating he has “a record”. Kate then asks Dade to copy the disk so that, if anyone else is arrested, they have the disk as un-tampered evidence. After determining that Dade is not the one who hacked into Ellingson, The Plague attempts to enlist Dade’s help to find the one who did. First, he sends Dade a high-powered laptop that displays a video message from The Plague encouraging Dade to join him. Later, he threatens to have Dade’s mother incarcerated with a manufactured criminal record. At this, Dade agrees to deliver Kate’s copy of the disk.
Meanwhile, Kate, Lord Nikon, and Cereal Killer attempt to discern the contents of the disk. Dade joins them; and, after working all night, they learn the purpose of its code—a worm designed to salami-slice $25 million from Ellingson transactions. Dade confesses that he knows Plague is behind this scheme, admitting that he gave him the disk and revealing his hacking history as “Zero Cool”. Determined to stop the scheme, the assembled hackers plan to hack the Gibson again. Kate and Dade go dumpster-diving for employee memos with passwords; Cereal Killer installs a phone tap in the Ellingson offices; and Nikon poses as a delivery boy wandering the Ellingson cubicles, memorizing employee passwords as they enter them into their terminals.Reading the memos, they discover that the Da Vinci virus is set to capsize the oil fleet the next day, which would provide the perfect cover to distract from the salami-slicing worm. In need of help, Dade and Kate seek out Razor and Blade, the producers of a hacker-themed unlicensed TV show, “Hack the Planet.” Razor and Blade are at a club where Urban Dance Squad is performing and Dade and Kate manage to convince Razor and Blade to join them in disrupting The Gibson enough that the garbage file can be located and copied. Lord Nikon and Cereal Killer learn through their Ellingson phone tap that warrants for their arrest are to be executed at 9AM the next day.The next morning, after being paged by Kate, Nikon and Cereal roller-blade from Washington Square Park, evading the Secret Service after exploiting the traffic system and using a payload that reconfigures traffic lights and converge on Grand Central station, where they use payphones and acoustic couplers to begin their assault on the Gibson. At first, their attempts are easily rebuffed by Plague, who calls Dade to taunt him to escape before he is arrested. However, Razor and Blade have contacted hackers around the world, who lend their support with virus attacks, hampering the Gibson and distracting Plague long enough for Joey to download the incriminating file to a floppy disk.
Shortly after crashing the Gibson, Dade and company are arrested. As they’re being led away, Dade surreptitiously informs Cereal Killer, hiding in the crowd, that he’s tossed the disk in a trashcan. As Dade and Kate are being interrogated, Razor and Blade jam the local television signals and broadcast live video of Cereal Killer, revealing the plot and Plague’s complicity, along with the account number with the stolen funds. Plague is arrested while attempting to flee to Japan under the alias “Mr. Babbage” (itself a reference to Charles Babbage). Their names cleared, Dade and Kate go on a date at a swimming pool on the roof of a building, their friends showing off their latest hack—the lights in several adjacent office buildings spelling out “CRASH AND BURN.” Confirming that they have had dreams about each other, the two begin to make out.
Director Ian Softley handles preceedings well, and even blurs the line between fantasy and reality by showing how the hackers see the world as a labyrinth of computer connections. The film has a harsh sense of humour too, and demonstrates just how powerful a computer hacker can be. Although the dialogue and plot can be dodgy in some moments, Hackers is definitely an original and well-crafted movie adventure.