“I.T.” is basically one of those “Psycho acts benign as he/she befriends innocent family before turning out to be a psycho” thrillers that the ’90s loved to pump out. “Single White Female”, “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” (RIP Curtis Hanson), take your pick. Only this time, the beat-by-beat predictable story comes with a techie slant, as an unhinged I.T. nerd named Ed (James Frecheville) first befriends then terrorizes airplane tycoon Mike Regan (Pierce Prosnan), his wife Rose (Anna Friel), and his teenage daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott) by invading their privacy and ruining their lives with his supreme “internetting” skills.
Basically, imagine Mark Wahlberg’s character in “Fear,” keep the smoldering bad boy looks, and just add a pinch of lame Hollywood-logic knowledge of hacking, and you get this movie. As tired as the premise is, there could be some promise of originality in the tech angle. The movie basically asks, “What if Elliot from ‘Mr. Robot‘ was a bad guy, using his skills to destroy lives due to petty jealousies, instead of bringing down evil corporations?”
This could have worked if screenwriters Dan Kay and William Wisher (the latter of whom co-wrote “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and should know better), as well as director John Moore, had any interest in how contemporary hacking works, instead of relying on old tropes of the hacker incoherently typing in front of a bunch of screens filled with purposefully glitchy and pixellated gobbledygook. Just like the sub-genre it exploits without any attempt at upgrading it for the contemporary age, the tech specs of “I.T.” are also stuck in the ’90s. Next to hyperrealistic depictions of the internets as a series of neon tubes, like “The Net” and “Hackers,” “I.T.” fits right in. As a 2016 release, it’s downright embarrassing.
Anyone who’s seen even one of the thrillers I mentioned above can outline every single scene to come from the very first moments of “I.T.” During an important presentation, Mike’s computer glitches, only to be saved at the last second by Ed, an ex-NSA worker who’s now temping at Mike’s company. Impressed by his skills, Mike invites Ed over to his house to fix his slow wi-fi. Ed fixes the internet, they share a cold beer, and everyone goes on their merry way. Of course I’m messing with you: Mike turns out to be a psychotic weirdo who obsesses over the family. The movie’s so lazily written, that when his medical history is revealed, it’s shown that he has every single mental disease known to man. Take your pick folks; they’re too disinterested to give even the most basic depth to these characters.
How do we know Ed’s a psycho? Because we’re shown what amounts to a techie version of the age-old cliché where the bad guy’s dark and creepy lair is adorned with pictures of his obsession with the eyes gauged out and a red pentagram drawn around it. But since Ed’s oh so tech-savvy, we get a digital version of that, with a bunch of awkwardly placed monitors full of pictures of Mike’s family that glitches for no apparent reason other than perhaps Moore found the effect to be creepy. James Frecheville’s over-the-top and painfully obvious performance doesn’t help either, and seems to have been formed in the Lifetime Channel Movie Acting School.
Pierce Brosnan must have been aware of how hacky the material was, so he barely eeks out a performance while doing the bare minimum in order to cash his check with a clear conscience. We’re supposed to at least identify with the well-meaning family in these movies. But Brosnan’s character is such an idiot, that we find ourselves rooting for the bad guy to finally put him out of his misery.
First off, after Ed shares a video of Mike’s daughter masturbating in the shower, which he recorded by hacking into the cameras in Mike’s house, the lovely family man decides to blame the victim and accuses her of filming the video herself. This is already a dumb and vile conclusion for Mike to come to, but the fact that the previous scene shows Mike having to deal with his planes not being able to fly after Ed hacks his company makes this even more egregious. Hey dude, the villain just hacked into the network of a multi-billion dollar corporation. What makes you think he can’t get into your consumer grade security cameras? And why the hell did you put a security camera in your shower to begin with?
Second, since the third act requires Brosnan’s character to be involved in an action scene, Mike inexplicably decides to steal incriminating evidence from Ed’s home, when he could have easily paid a bunch of professionals to do it. Because when I hear “Senior age billionaire businessman,” I think “Sly and efficient cat burglar.” Of course, he gets in a heap of trouble with the police, making everything worse for himself and his family.
Since the movie adds a tech twist to the old formula, one might hope that the finale will have Mike beat Ed using a techie solution, turning the tables on the brilliant hacker. Nope, we get yet another predictable home invasion thriller climax that ends with the antagonist and the protagonist fighting for the gun during a tussle. No big surprise coming from Moore, a director who’s mainly known as a gun for hire for franchises (“A Good Day to Die Hard”) or wannabe franchise starters (“Max Payne”). He appears to be going for a more intimate lower-budget thriller here, but can’t seem to leave behind his bombastic action sensibilities. His film is full of flashy camera moves and manic editing tricks in order to cover up the stale screenplay. During the final fight, the house’s windows break, resulting in a ridiculously exaggerated flurry of wind, rain, and thunderclaps. Forget the psycho, the family should deal with the poltergeist that’s obviously haunting their home.
If it came out in the ’90s, “I.T.” would have been a silly distraction. In this day and age, it’s a colossal waste of time, a 14K dial-up in the time of fiber optic. [D-]