BLACKHAT (NC16)/133 minutes/Opens tomorrow/*
The story: Computer expert Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is released from prison to help track down a brilliant villain. American agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) makes sure he stays on the straight and narrow while juggling the limits of cooperation with the Chinese side. Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) is the People's Liberation Army officer on the case and he ropes in his sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei). As they chase the shadowy mastermind from Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta, the stakes get higher and higher.
There is no way of saying this nicely: Blackhat is a big steaming pile of bulls***, which is an especially shocking conclusion given that director Michael Mann has been feted for his work from historical epic The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) to crime thriller Collateral (2004).
One of the key challenges with a cyber thriller is: How do you make lines of code look sexy and exciting? The solution here is to cast hunky Hemsworth as an unlikely programmer. Not only is someone of Hathaway's calibre needed to point out simple facts of logic, but the genius is also conveniently primed for action and even joins in on a police raid.
The top-notch line-up also flounders in this draggy and literal movie.
Hollywood star Hemsworth has been heating up the screen as god/superhero Thor, while Davis and Tang are well-regarded award-winning actresses. Wang is better known for his singing than his acting, but at least he is popular.
Because of the sprawling cast, there is a long and convoluted set-up just to get everyone in place. Yet, much of the characterisation and reasoning is just plain lazy. A China military officer needs someone he can trust on the operation? Who else but his sister who just happens to possess some specialised skills, which are ultimately rather underwhelming.
All this on top of a script saddled with a deadly combination of cliches and gaping plotholes. Despite being in the middle of a major crime operation, Hathaway and Chen Lien manage to operate independently - just so they can make googly eyes at each other.
It is the kind of movie in which an ex-convict can work at a top-level security outfit, a wad of magazines can stop bullets and police forces are shockingly inept (a cavalier cop ventures into a high-risk raid in a sleeveless top).
For all the globe-trotting and jet-setting, the movie is deadly dull. The characters chase clues in some mockery of a treasure hunt that viewers are forced to go on. When the mastermind is finally unmasked looking like a British couch potato, it feels like a booby prize. In the annals of villainy, he must be one of the lamest ever.
The trailer had promised a fast-paced thriller. It lied.