Sneakers April 9, 2016
Sneakers is a caper film in tone and in spirit, but it's technologically inclined, too. Released in 1992, a time when the internet was still tentatively called an Information Superhighway and when computers were larger than Nicki Minaj’s derriere, part of us wants to get a kick out of its dated, unsubtle ways of prominently displaying its electronic savviness. But part of us feels a little alienated — it seems to be a modern movie made for then-modern mid-1990s audiences.
The film opens in 1969, where college students Martin and Cosmo are hacking into computer networks (using university tools, no less) to relocate conservative governmental funds to liberal associations of their choosing. Under the impression that they’re making right, no remorse peppers their illegal actions until the police arrive on the scene and arrest Cosmo for his crimes. Out buying food for their night of “sneaking,” Martin thus goes into hiding and makes a new name for himself in the years following.
We catch up with him in 1992, where has changed his name to Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) and where he has embarked on a fruitful career as a security specialist. Hired by high-and-mighty companies to protect their software from potential hackers, he, along with a team of technological experts, make bank keeping firewalls firm and codes strong. Few know of his past encounter with the law — so imagine his surprise when two agents (Timothy Busfield and Eddie Jones) arrive in his office with an offer that he won’t much be inclined to refuse.
Well aware of former identity, they provide him with a quasi-threatening ultimatum. If he and his team steal a “black box” from Dr. Gunter Janek (Donal Logue), a Russian scientist, they will clear his name and enable him to live life without fear of having his past catch up with him. Do the opposite and he’ll be arrested, his new existence completely thrown away. Persuaded that the box, said to be a sort of weapon to be utilized by the Russian government, will cause more harm than good, he reluctantly agrees, his colleagues following close behind. But as in all good and decent caper films, there is more than what meets the eye — and this black box is much more of a threat than what was originally thought possible.
There are some decently wicked lines here and there, and some of the cardboard cutouts of supplemental characters do get a chance to break out of their confines and do deliver what we’d hope they might; Mary McDonnell is sexy and clever as Redford’s ex-girlfriend turned partner-in-crime, and David Strathairn is becomingly deadpan as a blind conglomerate. But Sneakers is an otherwise dated thriller vulnerable to losing its charm as the computer age thickens and as its stars slowly descend into the pitfalls that peck at heavyweights of the past. C+