Hardwired was the working title for I, Robot… a man-on-the-run Sci-Fi about the evolution of robot-kind starring Will Smith. It also happens to be the title for a man-on-the-run Sci-Fi about the evolution of corporate advertising starring Cuba Gooding Jr, but “Hairbrained” seems more fitting in retrospect as the film is plagued by a number of “glitches” as the techies like to say…
For starters, it co-stars three-time Razzie Award winner Val Kilmer. Now I know Sly Stallone put on a few kilos for his role in Cop Land, but that’s called “getting into character”. Kilmer on the other hand, looks like his eccentric scientist-in-disguise character from The Saint in a fat suit after taking a Method acting lesson from Leon Schuster… it’s not pretty.
Physical appearance aside, his performance is as rigid as a plank and as unconvincing as Steve Martin’s take on Dr. Evil in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Kilmer’s performance was probably done via video conference as all we ever really see of the big man is relayed via satellite, momentarily duplicated like Agent Smith dropped into Enter the Dragon and he doesn’t even bother to show up for the behind-the-scenes special feature (I had to). Poor form… what happened Val? First that steaming pile of Conspiracy, then the ice-cream and now Hardwired… he’s doing a Travolta on us!
Aside from a poor show from the Ice(cream)man, it’s all up to Cuba to save the day in something resembling the 2004 Manchurian Candidate remake, Minority Report and Enemy of the State. I thought video game adaptations were made after video games? Well, Hardwired is either borrowing the setting from Deus Ex or is fleshing out a video game plot, because its tuned into wooden performances (were Cuba and Val test subjects for the first wave of CGI acting) and thin story lines permitting a spate of revenge killings leading up to the Big Boy boss?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Hardwired has all been done before (and better) in Strange Days, Scanners, Gamer, Minority Report, The Matrix, The Manchurian Candidate, Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, Enemy of the State with the exception of Bai Ling’s The Gene Generation (yack!). Hardwired borrows large and small components from much more scintillating actioners from the Sci-Fi genre. It’s kind of expected in the b-movie realm, but when a movie lacks any iota of originality, it deals itself a death blow.
Who wants to see the advertising gimmicks, man-on-the-run arc, memory recall, minimalist approach and big brother’s watching you angle from Spielberg’s Minority Report again? Who wants to watch the big corporate, man-on-the-run, invasion of privacy, personal shutdown from Enemy of the State again, or perhaps the memory module reality, environment and futuristic turmoil from Strange Days?
Or the green programming text, closing monologue and Agent Smith wannabe from The Matrix, I could go on… The only borrowed feature that does work is the short-lived exploding head effect from Scanners, which also starred “Jack Nicholson’s stunt double” and cult icon, Michael Ironside, who surprisingly finds himself in Hardwired.
For a b-movie, the sets aren’t too bad, apart from the occasional tin foil modification, and the film has a nice futuristic feel to rally 2000 Game of the Year, Deus Ex. If Cuba was white, had been wearing a get-up like Neo and was able to be fully augmented with technology… this could have easily been a bad video game adaptation of Deus Ex. The New York setting, dark back alleys, minimalist approach and hacker video feed transmissions all align themselves with the gritty atmospheric setting of Deus Ex. Unfortunately, it isn’t… opting for a luke warm “10 years from now” brainwashing plot, which lacks passion and any sense of urgency or reality.
Hardwired functions like a weak ’90s Sci-Fi and would easily be trumped by just about any Sci-Fi TV series for special effects and its ability to hold your interest. It’s really sad to see Cuba Gooding Jr’s lack of confidence bearing down on him as the no-talent police come a-knocking… he’s not even a shade of his character in Jerry Maguire and it’s hard to believe he won an Oscar. Val Kilmer isn’t any better and seems to have been on a downward spiral since the late ’90s with co-star performances turning into cameos. He did some good for himself in Felon, but there’s been very little to speak of since he came out in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and did something opposite Denzel in Deja Vu.
All in all, it’s a severe under-performer that had some potential on paper with a half-decent plot suited to the economic climate, two ex-A-listers and a cult star. However, there’s just no substitute for uninspired acting, a lack-lustre passion for film-making and working strictly to rule for the pay cheque at the end of the day. In Hollywood, anything can happen… but Gooding Jr. and Kilmer are going to need a post-True Romance Tarantino miracle if they ever hope to forklift themselves out of their B-movie graves. Take a moment of silence to remember Cuba’s “Show me the money!” scene and Kilmer’s iconic rendition of Doc Holliday in Tombstone.
The bottom line: Deadpan.