Director – Ernie Barbarash, Screenplay – Mike Hurst, Producers – Christine Haebler & Kirk Shaw, Photography – Stephen Jackson, Music – Schaun Tozer, Visual Effects Supervisors – Joseph Conti & Richard Mintak, Visual Effects – Conti Films Inc., Additional Visual Effects – Insight HD Post, Special Effects Supervisor – Al Benjamin, Production Design – Troy Hansen. Production Company – Stage 6/Insight Film Studios Ltd./Motion Picture Corporation of America.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Luke Gibson), Val Kilmer (Virgil Kirkhill), Michael Ironside (Hal Vukovich), Tatiana Maslany (Punk Red), Juan Riedinger (Punk Blue), Eric Breker (Robert Drake), Chad Krowchuk (Traxler ‘Keyboard’ Vukovich), Donny Lucas (Bennett Jackson), Terry Chen (Carter Burke), Hiro Kanagawa (Dr Steckler), Ali Liebert (Catalina Jones), Rachel Luttrell (Candace), Robert Clarke (Arnold Winston), Monica Mustelier (Veronica Gibson)
It is some time in the near future. Corporations rule the world and the most powerful of these is Hope Industries. Luke Gibson, a former army captain, is driving with his pregnant wife Veronica when they are hit by another car. She is killed and Luke is rushed to hospital with brain damage. His insurance has been cancelled, which means he is to be assigned to the incurable ward, however a team from Hope Industries arrive and commandeer his body. Luke is then implanted with a computer chip that allows his mind to function again, although with his memory wiped. Almost immediately after he comes around, Luke starts seeing visions of people that are not there soliciting him to buy things. These are projected commercial implants from Hope Industries that continue until the chip wearer buys or (as Luke discovers) steals the item being advertised. When Luke starts to demand answers from the doctors, Hope Industries trigger a failsafe inside the chip that will cause his head to explode. However, this is overridden by a group of outlaw hackers. The hackers then use the chip to provide Luke with directions to evade Hope Industries forces. Using the unique advantages offered by the chip and Luke’s military skills, they now seek to turn him against Hope Industries in an attempt to bring down the corporation.
Hardwired is a film from Ernie Barbarash, a Canadian director who had previously produced American Psycho (2000) and its sequel, had produced and written Cube 2: Hypercube (2002) before making his writing/directing debut with Cube Zero (2004). Barbarash has subsequently directed other genre works such as Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming (2007), They Wait (2007), Meteor (tv mini-series, 2009), Ticking Clock (2010) and Abduction (2019).
Hardwired comes with a conceptual preposterousness that sits just on the edge of plausibility – that in the future, with the erosion of Medicare in the US, companies will offer brain implants that will save lives but these will come with commercial inserts – ones that amusingly enough only stop when people acquire the item being advertised. On the other hand, one finds it hard to believe that some of the social conditions the film postulates could ever come about – that people would not object to such commercial implants or that a corporation could get away with blowing up the heads of test subjects.
Hardwired is very much a film born of the 2008 Recession – there is even a line “after the bailouts failed” at one point. The opening scenes amusingly launch into product placement with satiric regard – a McDonalds sign on the Hoover Dam, the Washington Monument emblazoned with Trojan and the Statue of Liberty with the Playboy logo, Master Card on the side of Mr Rushmore, a Windows hologram at Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal advertising Gatorade, an aircraft carrier landing pad painted with the Visa logo. One is amazed that the film was able to get away with name-dropping so many existing corporate brand names without receiving cease and desist letters from the lawyers of the companies in question.
This is a promising set-up that could have made for an interesting satirical nightmare future along the lines of something like THX 1138 (1971), Gattaca (1997) or V for Vendetta (2006). Instead, Hardwired ends up as a desultory science-fiction thriller that is only down around the level of an average Syfy Channel film. The novelty concept of a corporate run future where people are given advertising brain implants quickly collapses down into a hacker thriller with Cuba Gooding Jr breaking into the corporate headquarters to take revenge. Here the implant improbably becomes nothing more than the equivalent of a piece of science-fictional spy gadgetry that gives him the advantage in a number of scenes. (One also finds it hard to believe that those who inserted the implant would not also create some tracking/monitoring device to follow where their test subjects are). Most of the film is centred around various corporate break ins, Cuba Gooding Jr and the hackers evading reprisals from corporate SWAT teams before Gooding is captured and confronts the villain.
The hero of the show is played by Cuba Gooding Jr who briefly ascended the A-list after winning a Best Supporting Oscar for Jerry Maguire (1996) but has since faded away and done little of distinction – Chill Factor (1999), Instinct (1999), Snow Dogs (2002), Daddy Day Camp (2007) anyone? Gooding gives the show the solid team effort but seems to be batting well below his game. There is another former A-list name who washed up in the 00s in the presence of Val Kilmer who overacts appallingly as a scruffy mad scientist/corporate bad guy.
Screenwriter Mike Hurst, no relation to the Kiwi actor Michael Hurst from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994-9), has written a number of other similar B-budget films with the likes of Mansquito (2005), The Butcher (2006) and The Graveyard (2006) and directed several films including genre entries such as House of the Dead 2 (2005), The Darkroom (2006), Room 6 (2006), Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud (2007), Re-Kill (2015) and Paradox (2016).