Judge Steve Power wonders why corporations are just so bloody EVIL in the future...
This time they picked the wrong test subject!
The Cuba Gooding Jr. (The Devil's Tomb) direct-to-video train keeps on a-rolling. This time out we get a pseudo cyberpunk science fiction thriller complete with dark conspiracies and evil mega corporations. Val Kilmer (Willow) comes along for the ride, continuing his own descent into Z-grade straight to DVD junk. Does Hardwired manage to rise above its pedigree and provide us with something worth watching?
Facts of the Case
Luke Gibson (Cuba Gooding Jr) has lost his pregnant wife in a horrific car accident, and his own memory is a thing of the past, literally. After suffering severe head injuries, he's awoken to find that the Hope Corporation has taken it upon themselves to use a new, untested technology to save his life. There's a malicious looking little computer chip implanted in the back of his brain, and while he's up and about again, fit as a fiddle, he has no recollection of who he was. There's also the problem of the skinny Asian guy who keeps appearing, trying to hock an advanced wristwatch, or the sultry dame in the red dress that only he can see who keeps trying to sell him whiskey. Of course there's also the issue of other people with the same chip suddenly losing their minds, literally, when the thing decides they've violated protocol and detonates their Medulla Oblongata.
With the help of some computer hackers led by Michael Ironside (Total Recall), Luke has the means to control the implant, and with his hacker buddies in control of the implant, he's taking the fight to the Hope corporation and the twisted exec in charge of 'Project 660' (Val Kilmer).
It seems like both Cuba Gooding Jr. and Val Kilmer are intent on flooding video store shelves with titles these days. Instead of your typical crime thrillers or military actioners, they've teamed up this time to tackle the world of dystopian sci-fi. Everyone who watches any amount of trash can tell you that the reason these "direct-to-DVD" stars pop up in so many heist flicks and Tom Clancy rip-offs is because these sorts of films can be done on amazingly low budgets. Sci-fi on the other hand, usually requires a little more leeway in the finances, a little more time behind the camera, and a little more work in post. In the past, movies like Hardwired generally made me cringe when I passed them in rental shops. I can count on one hand, how many truly exceptional sci-fi flicks actually came from the direct to video market. It was with lower than low expectations that I sat down to this one.
Amazingly, Hardwired isn't completely terrible. The screenplay isn't complete rubbish, the effects are surprisingly competent, and there's enough focus on the well choreographed action that you don't really notice the dodgy bits. Clearly the writer read his Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson primers, and people familiar with this particular sci-fi niche will witness few surprises. There are plenty of crosses and double crosses, unmotivated corporate evils, and conspiracies to go around. All the paranoia and heavy handed social commentary that goes with the genre is present. Try to think about it too hard and the plot holes will make your head explode.
Cuba is probably the film's biggest asset, as he handles even the more ludicrous scenes with conviction and professionalism. He may not be the best in the game or anything, but he certainly gives it his all rather than phoning anything in for a paycheck. When the guns, kicks, and fists come out, he sells the physicality quite well. The supporting cast isn't bad, Michael Ironsides plays against type as a scholarly old professor sort, and the two young folks who play his punk-rock cohorts, Red and Blue, are ok without being offensive or annoying.
Sony packs this release with trailers, lots and lots of trailers, which is hardly surprising considering the disc probably exists primarily for the rental market. The one extra included, a 15-minute documentary, is surprisingly decent, with a very earnest cast & crew (minus one Val Kilmer) discussing the effort they put into the film. It's pleasantly un-commercial, informative, and did a solid job in getting me behind the film.
The disc's technical merits are sound as well. The 5.1 audio is suitably punchy and well separated, and the visuals (which look as though they were film in HD digital) look sharp and free of blemishes or authoring gaffes. It's a nice job from Sony on what could easily be considered a throwaway project.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Every frame of Hardwired is a testament to its low budget (or rather, Canadian) origins. I'm not exaggerating when I say the look and feel of the film is about on par with late-'90s TV more so than feature film. I kept having flashbacks of Dark Angel while watching, which, I guess could be good or bad depending on how you felt about that particular series. That said, the effects work well enough in serving the story without becoming distracting, even if they're never ever convincing.
It must also be said that Val Kilmer is bloody awful in this film, from his glib remarks to his extremely bizarre look. His oversized spectacles, complete with rope chain and scarecrow haircut makes me wonder what the hell people were thinking. I mean, I don't know if Val's eccentricities were responsible, or if the creative minds actually felt that he should look like an unemployed stock broker with a coke problem and water retention. It's no wonder they photoshopped a picture of him from what looks like The Saint onto the DVD cover.
Hardwired also leaves the door wide open for a sequel, complete with
a subtle big baddie reveal in the final scene that has a part of me yearning for
When all is said and done, fans of dystopian sci-fi don't really have a whole lot to choose from these days. I'd probably grab Hardwired before watching Johnny Mnemonic again. If that ain't offhanded praise, I don't know what is.
Not guilty! I have a soft spot for dystopia. Bring on Hardwired 2: Electric Boogaloo.
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