Hardwired (2009): Ernie Barbarash
In a near future in which corporations control everything, what happens when they control your mind? What happens when a corporation can kill you if you don’t buy the right products?
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: An unwilling test subject fights the corporation that tried to kill him.
Luke Gibson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) started his day being angry. Living in an unnamed city, he steps into his shitty car with his pregnant wife to drive…somewhere. As the car enters an intersection, it is sideswiped by a driver. Luke’s wife dies.
Luke continues to be angry, and he will be angry for many more days. Luke is sent to a hospital, where he learns that his insurance has lapsed and he can’t afford to fix his massive head trauma.
Enter a shadowy corporation known as Hope Industries. They will pay for Luke’s surgery, but in exchange they will insert a insect-like device that will clamp onto his brain and save his life.
Luke wakes up, and is still angry. This time he’s mad about the life-like ads he’s seeing in his field of vision. While Luke rests, well, tries to rest, in his hospital bed, he watches an ad for the Aeon 3 watch, an ad he will watch many times.
Luke leaves the hospital and is mad about being the subject of new initiative from Hope Industries–Project 660, in which Hope implants 660 subjects with a special chip that projects ads wherever they look until they buy the thing advertised.
Being subject to a corporation’s advertising wet dream is not someone you want to be. Fortunately for Luke, some hackers are looking out for him, and they help save his life after his first night outside the hospital.
Good thing those hackers are there, because Luke doesn’t remember anything about his life. He only has cognitive memories. We learn about Luke as he learns about himself.
Before the brain injury Luke Gibson was a decorated war veteran. “Two continents, three wars,” he’s told, all with Special Forces. He even uncovered an arms smuggling ring within his own unit. He also had a family, making him dangerous to Hope.
Guess what? Luke turns out to be dangerous, but not without massive aid from his hacker guardian angels. Four hackers adopt Luke, promising to return his lost memories in exchange for help destroying Hope Industries.
Luke agrees, because he’s a broken man. “I can’t feel anything,” he says. “All I have left is rage.” He watches images of his life left behind on the Internet and it doesn’t move him. I’ll condemn this script for making me forget that Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar.
With excellent martial skills, Luke navigates his new augmented reality because of his back up. Otherwise he’s there for no reason.
Val Kilmer plays Virgil Kirkhill, a funny, ominous sounding name, and about the only thing intimidating about him. Virgil appears several times before even taking a step, spending most of his time watching a huge bank of monitors like he’s living inside a DirecTV satellite.
Indeed, those are grandma glasses and accompanying chain. Indeed, his hair looks worse than bed head, which is only possible through effort. This is a character we are supposed to believe is second in command at America’s largest corporation, the most powerful entity in the United States. He’s the brains behind Project 660.
Luke becomes Virgil’s primary focus, of course, after he survives the company’s self-destruct button built into all their implants. After trying to kill Luke, Virgil decides he wants him alive. Later, he tries to kill him, only to change his mind again.
When Virgil confronts Luke, he throws out cliches like how people live “empty lives” and “We’ll tell them what they want,” as if living life surrounded by monitors is a fulfilled life.
Val Kilmer creates a bad villain, but at least a memorable one.
A first action scene occurs shortly after Luke steals the Aeon 3 watch his brain has been telling him to buy and runs from a cop. Not a cop, actually, but a guy wearing a “SECURITY” hat and carrying a gun. Luke starts to see words in the real world. Today we know this as Augmented Reality, or AR, but in 2009 they didn’t know of such things.
The AR implores Luke to “trust us.” It tells Luke that the gun’s safety is on, and he chooses to run. Suddenly, many cops are following Luke. This is not so much a dystopian future as it is modern times for a black man in America. A non-police officer almost shot a guy for robbing a store.
Another scene has Luke fighting off some guys in his home. First, he’s warned by his hacker saviors to not open his door. He obeys, hiding in a room and fighting off the attacker with some face shoves and slamming him onto the floor. Next, he’s implored to duck, which he does, allowing the first goon to shoot the second goon running into the room. Luke dispatches the shooter with an impressive roundhouse kick.
Now many more guys are coming in with guns drawn. Luke runs out the fire escape and onto the street. He spots a tall man wearing all black and sunglasses at night. Turns out this guy is NOT an assassin. Who is? The woman carrying a baby. She drops that baby (doll) and reveals a gun. But Luke is faster, drawing his gun and killing her, then a man in a truck bed behind him. Finally, Luke is ordered to enter the white van, which is not a van but a truck.
These scenes plod along until the next garish onscreen text appears to tell Luke where to go. It’s all a humdrum exercise in action filmmaking, as if everyone wanted to stretch their legs a bit.
Hardwired picks up when the hacker protectorate finds Luke. Punks Red and Blue (Tatiana Maslany and Juan Riedinger), plus Hal (Michael Ironside) and his son Keyboard (Chad Krowchuk) are the four tech wizards resisting Hope Industries.
Red and Blue drive a bulletproof truck that they call van, where they can monitor Luke and the other test subjects. Red and Blue are the boots on the ground.
Red identifies Luke for his having a family as a potential recruit for their group. Blue is the cynic. He refers to Luke as Number 373, for which Red scolds him. “If we treat him like a number we’re no better than they are,” she says. Red is the dreamer, the believer. Blue sucks.
Keyboard is the real genius. A victim of a Hope Industries botched assassination attempt, he never speaks and doesn’t leave his hospital bed. Keyboard is the movie’s most interesting character, and that should tell you all you need to know about Hardwired.
Keyboard once worked for Hope, until he tried to blow the whistle on them. They put a bullet in his head, which damaged his speech abilities but did not, as Hope thought, kill him. Keyboard, rescued by his father, Hal, retreated to an abandoned warehouse outside the city and set up shop to fight his former employer and Destroyer of America.
Keyboard does all the hacking work from his bed while on life support. He’s constantly typing with his left hand while his right hand is gloved and runs over motherboards. This was my favorite image of the movie and it’s most frightening aspect. (I already live in a world of ubiquitous advertising, so the Golden Arches on the Hoover Dam didn’t scare me as much as it should have.)
After Keyboard’s demise, Red and Blue continue the fight, using records of Keyboard’s hacks to do some wizardry to aid Luke as he storms Hope Industries.
Virgil’s best assassin is Drake. Drake’s digs tell you all you need to know about him. Its only colors are black, white, and gray. He lives in a studio on the second floor, which I know from the establishing shot that shows his apartment building and then pans up one floor to indicate Drake’s floor. That was hilariously bad.
For some reason Drake sleeps fully clothed, and he plays chess, but against no one. HE PLAYS CHESS AGAINST HIMSELF. These Hope people are insane; their characters a better statement against an ad-saturated world than the movie means to make.
Anyway, Drake was in Luke’s unit. He went to prison after Luke blew up his arms ring, and Drake selected Luke as a test subject to avenge him. He also has phosphorus burns on his face for undisclosed reasons. He’s good at fighting, and he might have killed Luke’s wife after the car hit her.
His mistake was bringing his personal life into work. Isn’t that all our biggest mistakes?
When Luke confronts Drake in the latter’s apartment, he brings a gun. After a long question and answer part, Luke is ready to attack. He raises his handgun. Drake calls out “gun” to his apartment, which causes the apartment to disable the gun with lasers or magnets or something.
Drake flips over his counter to attack Luke. The two grapple with arm bars until Drake has Luke in a choke hold. He throws him into one of the unfinished concrete columns. Then he kicks him over the counter.
Drake tries to burn Luke’s face on the stove top. “Take it from me,” he says, “this is gonna hurt.” Luke locks his leg around Drake’s to destabilize him and throws him to the floor, but soon Luke is back in a choke hold. He stomps Drake’s foot to get out of that and delivers some bitch slaps. Luke then stands over Drake and throws punch after punch after punch into Drake’s face.
The stunt work was Hardwired‘s only above-board aspect. Cuba Gooding throws some solid roundhouse kicks into bad guys, about the only part in which he tried.
Luke makes it into the Hope Industries base, but not because he wanted to. Poor guy is strapped to a chair in a white room. He gets fooled by a man he thought was his friend but isn’t. Turns out the guy works for Hope, as a mole working the Project 660 community. A small community, but important to the company.
Anyway, Virgil tortures Luke who finds out that he’s given up his hacker friends. The hackers have countermeasures, and that forces Virgil to change tactics. He decides to extract the implant from Luke, as it can help identify the hacking techniques.
Luke languishes on a hospital bed as some docs prepare to extract the implant. Red informs the audience that doing so will kill Luke. The hackers hack his implant again in an effort to wake him up. In one attempt they flash an image of his wife. A single tear falls down Luke’s face. A single tear, folks. The man is feeling real feelings again.
Right before a doctor injects liquid into Luke’s eye, Luke wakes up. He kicks backward to incapacitate the doctor, then disarms the only guard in the room.
Luke escapes into a boiler room. Multiple levels, metal stairs, pipes, steam–it’s a first-person shooter nightmare area, and Luke is riding solo.
A squad of black-visor-clad troops floods into the boiler room. These guys were on call, but they only had one guard in the surgery room. Makes sense.
Luke kills four guards before they return fire. The hackers send Luke several video feeds, but that’s too confusing. Blue has an idea. He has Luke shoot out the lights. The cameras in the room can read infrared, and, using Keyboard’s hacks, Blue uses the cameras to create a map of bogeys that Luke can see. The video game likeness continues.
Luke starts shooting guys without looking. That’s cool. Credit to Luke, he knows how to shoot a gun and how to sweep a room. Problem is, he’s far outnumbered. In fact, he’s surrounded. Suddenly, the bad guys shoot each other like idiots. These guys have infrared in their visors, but they still shoot each other. Idiots.
Luke finds a hologram projecting room. These holograms are helping Hope gather intel on the Project 660 subjects. Luke scares away the man pretending to be a participant, “Get another gig,” he tells him. He orders the tech running the simulations to broadcast to all subjects that they are subjects of a Hope Industries experiment.
So now it’s time for Virgil to make a real appearance. A real appearance and several fake ones. A dozen Virgil’s all with different hair “styles,” walk into the room. Luke shoots a couple. They turn out to be holograms. The hackers inform Luke that he has one bullet left.
Let’s break down why this is ridiculous. First, Luke is a Special Forces veteran who can shoot enemies blindly. The hackers think he doesn’t know how to count rounds? Second, the hackers know how many bullets are in Luke’s gun. Finally, Luke has shot at least 20 bullets without reloading. He must be way, way out of bullets. But he’s not. He has one left.
Luke knows what to do. He tells the hackers to turn on infrared. Smart move. All the red dots on his heads-up display disappear, except one. The real Virgil stands behind Luke. Flexing shooting skill, Luke blows him away without looking.
After all that, they didn’t bring down Hope Industries. In a sad attempt to set up a sequel, Luke, Red, and Blue drive their bulletproof van/truck to Hope City, where the CEO of Hope Industries lives, to bring the fight to them, to put one more chink in the armor. That’s cute.
This movie never played in theaters, so, uh, it probably won’t work.
They don’t even try. Does Val Kilmer count as a joke?
All we know is that Luke lives in an American city with tall buildings. It’s left purposely vague, because it could be any city, even yours!
Few movies look as obviously shot on back lots as Hardwired. I couldn’t get past the streets. They were covered in what resembled white paint. Was it supposed to be snow? If so, it failed.
Also, the alleys are wide enough to drive a tank through. What cities have such alleys?
Hardwired asks us to picture a world just a few years from now, when “corporations observe and control…everything.” The opening minutes tell us all we need to know. We watch a man run through the subway fleeing something.
Soon he’s ground level and spots a security camera. He pleads with the camera. No luck. The guy starts screaming and his head explodes. Then the movie tells us about corporations controlling everything, and we watch a montage of images.
Companies have branded everything. The Washington Monument has TROJAN painted on it. There’s geese in the Reflecting Pool! The Hoover Dam, Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, and the Statue of Liberty have all sold out. Animals have logos, even the moon is branded.
The movie shows one side of the classic debate–is it better to have governments or companies to control everything? Now I’m convinced, neither is better.
Here’s a movie that’s down on corporate logos everywhere showing us corporate logos everywhere, at least at the start. Sly move, Hardwired, but I see what you’re doing.
Let’s move along.
- All the monitors are glitchy in this world. Isn’t this the future?
- All the cars are shitty in the future.
Summary (7/68): 10%
Didn’t see this movie in theaters? It didn’t make it. With good reason, because it’s not good.