New films: Blackhat, The Wedding Ringer and Cake

Tang Wei as Chen Lien and Chris Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway in Blackhat
Tang Wei as Chen Lien and Chris Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway in Blackhat

Chris Hemsworth tries to unmask a terrorist hacker in Blackhat.

BLACKHAT (15)

Following the attack on the computer systems of Sony Pictures in November 2014 and subsequent leak of emails, the insidious threat posed by cybercriminals is fresh in everyone’s mind.

Director Michael Mann’s polished yet soulless action thriller is perfectly timed to tap into this mood of pixellated paranoia, convening a global task force to unmask a madman who wreaks havoc from his computer keyboard.

Aided by digital trickery, Mann visualises the hack attack as a quick zoom into a computer monitor, careening along wires and circuitry as the flickering white pixels of incoming malware pollutes a blue sea of good coding.

The sequence is so neat and effective, the four times Oscar-nominated filmmaker uses it twice.

While the film’s hardware - direction, cinematography, action sequences - is robust, the software - characterisation, interpersonal relationships, dialogue - desperately needs an upgrade.

The central romance between Thor hunk Chris Hemsworth and pretty Chinese actress Tang Wei catalyses by clumsy dramatic necessity because she’s the only woman in the film, in fact the whole of Asia, who wouldn’t pass for his mother.

We don’t believe their heartfelt declarations for a second.

An elusive mastermind (Yorick van Wageningen) causes an explosion at a Hong Kong nuclear plant and tampers with the price of soy on Chicago’s Mercantile Trade Exchange using a Remote Access Tool (RAT), which gains access to computer systems and allows his malware to run amok.

Chinese military officer Captain Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) joins forces with his sister Lien (Wei), a gifted network engineer, to unmask the culprit.

It transpires that part of the RAT’s coding was written years ago by Dawai and his university roommate Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth), who is behind prison bars for computer crime.

The Chinese align with FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) and she promises Hathaway a commuted sentence if he apprehends the hacker.

The subsequent hunt takes Nicholas, Chen, Lien, Barrett and FBI colleague Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany) around the world, following a trail of clues that could lead them into the gun sights of the hacker’s sadistic associate, assassin Elias Kassar (Ritchie Coster).

Taking its title from a hacker who invades systems for personal gain, Blackhat struggles to compute a gripping thriller from invisible 21st-century warfare.

Hemsworth appears to have strutted straight off the set of The Avengers, sporting a ridiculously perfect physique for someone who is now consigned to a prison cell and denied excellent nutrition and access to a gym.

Wei is a non-descript love interest while Davis has only one decent scene of feisty banter to justify her heavyweight casting.

Mann’s camera is fixated on the twinkling lights of city locations that provide a pristine backdrop to co-operation between Chinese and American governments.

East meets west but his film goes south.

RATING: 5/10

CAKE (15)

Life is pain cocooned within extended periods of contentment and the mundane.

At some point, we all have to contend with that exquisite suffering, which seems like it might consume us, but it’s how we emerge from the blackness that ultimately defines us as strong, resilient creatures.

The embittered protagonist of Cake has been so deeply scarred - physically and emotionally - by her pain that she is toxic to everyone who orbits her.

In Daniel Barnz’ film, this font of bile and foul-mouthed misery is portrayed with bedraggled hair and make-up disfigurements by Jennifer Aniston.

It’s a compelling dramatic performance, stripped bare of vanity, which reminds us that the Los Angeles-born actress is much more than the romcom girl next door.

Unfortunately, Aniston’s eye-catching work is the glistening cherry on top of a half-baked drama that proves increasingly hard to swallow.

If scriptwriter Patrick Tobin had treated his mix of misfit characters with more care and sieved out some of the implausible dramatic detours, Aniston would probably have secured her first Oscar nomination as Best Actress.

Claire Bennett (Aniston) survived the car crash that shattered her body but her road to recovery is agonisingly long and winding.

She can’t sit or stand without enduring shooting pain, which she curbs by popping prescription medication like candy.

Her despairing husband Jason (Chris Messina) and friends have abandoned her, driven away by Claire’s perpetual meanness - everyone except for her maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza), whose devotion to an uncaring, self-destructive boss is a complete mystery to everyone, including us.

“I pay her to care about me. It’s not my fault she gets sentimental,” observes Claire by way of a feeble explanation.

When Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick), a fellow member of a chronic pain support group, commits suicide, Claire develops a new addiction: gate-crashing the grief of Nina’s husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and young son Casey (Evan O’Toole).

However, Roy doesn’t intend to don his shining armour and makes this clear to Claire.

“I can’t save you. I can barely save myself and my kid,” he confides sombrely.

Cake is an uneven bake, distinguished by Aniston’s committed performance and a warm, empathetic supporting turn from Barraza.

Even when the rest of Barnz’ film crumbles, which it does frequently, their sisterly solidarity holds our interest.

Throwaway interludes with a hunky gardener (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a man from the past (William H Macy) sit awkwardly with scriptwriter Tobin’s efforts to insert Nina’s ghost into proceedings.

Kendrick has fun as this spectral voice of waspish reason, berating Aniston’s short-tempered, selfish harridan, who is acutely aware of the role she plays in her miserable fairy-tale existence.

“Tell me a story where everything works out in the end for the evil witch,” sourly jokes Claire.

That story would be Cake.

RATING: 6/10

THE WEDDING RINGER (15)

It is supposed to be the happiest day of a couple’s life but a wedding is seldom the stress-free parade of well-behaved children, appropriate jokes, sobriety and family harmony promised by glossy bridal magazines.

A single delay or mishap can become a wrecking ball that demolishes months of meticulous and expensive preparation.

And just when it seems the worst is over and everyone can draw breath, the best man nervously stands up, microphone clasped in a sweaty palm, to deliver a speech which is supposed to be the crowning glory of the toasts.

It’s only then you realise that one man’s Dutch courage is another’s alcohol poisoning.

The Wedding Ringer is a sweet-natured yet highly improbable buddy comedy of errors, which walks down the aisle with one hapless groom, who enlists professional help to ensure he gets the best best man for his beautiful blushing bride.

Tax attorney Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is two weeks shy of marrying fiancee Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) at a lavish ceremony masterminded by flamboyant wedding planner Edmundo (Ignacio Serricchio).

As the son of an international tax attorney, who moved the family around the world, Doug never stayed in one place long enough to forge lasting friendships so he has no male companions to support him.

When Gretchen puts Doug on the spot about seating plans, he conjures up a fictitious best man called Bic Mitchum, who is a military priest from North Dakota.

The lie weighs heavily on Doug and the loveable loser seeks help from Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), owner of The Best Man Inc.

For $50,000, Jimmy will adopt the identity of the elusive Bic and recruit seven bogus groomsmen to complement Gretchen’s gaggle of bridesmaids.

As the big day approaches, Jimmy goes into charm overdrive to fool Gretchen’s family and deliver Doug the wedding he deserves.

Written in broad strokes by director Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender, The Wedding Ringer raises one glass to male bonding and another to mawkish sentiment, sloshing contrivances in every direction.

The unlikely central pairing of Hart and Gad, who voiced Olaf the deluded snowman in Frozen, occasionally sparkles.

Hart dials down his manic showmanship a notch or two and Gad oozes natural likeability as a loner who can’t believe he has landed the girl of his dreams.

The script neatly jilts one garish stereotype at the altar but Garelick’s film is amicably divorced from reality and evidently lost custody of the three-dimensional characters.

For better or worse, The Wedding Ringer falls short of matrimonial bliss.

RATING: 5/10