I can tell you pretty much everything that happens in Michael Mann's new cyberthriller, Blackhat, in just one sentence. But I could easily spend 40 sentences telling you how it happens, describing the splash of green and red traffic lights reflected in a windshield, the way the camera seeks out the faintly shadowed ballerina neck curve of Chinese actress Tang Wei. Mann takes the bland elements of the generic mainstream thriller -- the cop being shot, the car exploding, the hot girl taking notice of the hero -- and gooses them into visual overdrive.
There's visual thinking everywhere you look in Blackhat, which is great until you realize that it's bled into a kind of overthinking -- the movie is too much of a good thing, an exercise that flattens any potential exhilaration or excitement into the sensation of grading a term paper. All those stylistic garnishes start to pile up; you know they mean something, but processing them becomes a chore.
The story: Ace criminal hacker Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is sprung from jail to help old pal and MIT classmate Chen (Wang Leehom) track down the "blackhat," or malicious hacker, who has brought on a near-meltdown at a nuclear-power facility. FBI agent Carol Barrett (a businesslike Viola Davis) distrusts Hathaway from the start, glowering at him librarian-style over her glasses. As the action skims from city to city, Hathaway falls in love (and into bed) with Chen's sister, Lien, played by Tang: Hathaway and Lien find their way to each other almost wordlessly, which makes you believe in it more -- Mann is good at that sort of thing. And yet other than that, this elaborate, purposeful movie never quite connects.