Hooked is a sci-fi action adventure thriller about a group of gamers who unlock superhuman abilities only to become a special task force. Set in Russia, the expert gamers are identified and integrated into an experimental trial after winning a gaming tournament. Written and directed by Paul Ross, Hooked has an affinity for old school action mayhem recalling the machismo of action thriller, Hunter Killer.
Centred on gaming and geek culture, Hooked has a number of similarities with the spy action comedy series Chuck. While Chuck inadvertently downloaded the CIA database through an intricate image system called the intersect to give him special knowledge and abilities, the gaming team are exposed to an unreleased video game, which fries their computers with its advanced technology. Not going into too much detail, much like the mysterious technology at the heart of Inception, the concept of gaming skills being augmented to replicate the equivalent fighting, shooting and driving skills is established. Veering into the same territory as Dead Trigger: Unkilled, the idea of top gamers being recruited to form a near-invincible elite squad isn’t original but does present some curious possibilities for action.
Hooked features an expansive ensemble with the elite squad comprised of a crew handsome enough to be a boy band. While their film star looks add to the film’s coolness factor and style, Hooked is more focused on action, making the performances a secondary objective. More of an ensemble effort, the acting load is spread so that there isn’t an overreliance on any one character to carry the film from a dramatic standpoint. Hooked does pivot on three primary actors as allegiances are tested, relying on a sprawling supporting cast as romantic interests, henchmen and powerful bosses enter the fray.
“What’s up, Doc?”
Checking in at over two hours, Hooked is a saga that proves it could have just as easily been adapted into a TV series. The central concept has replay value as evidenced by Chuck, hinging on an elite team of mercenaries who could build episodes around missions and personal politics. While a long running time, the swirling mix of action, bravado and gamesmanship keeps things upbeat. Muddying the waters with the team’s various trials, deceptions, employers and politics, there’s enough conflict to keep you loosely invested and guessing at outcomes to each deadlock.
Dynamic cinematography ensures there’s rarely a dull moment whether they’re playing paintball, giving the bad guys a beat down or carrying out an assassination. Trying to raise dopamine levels to match the gaming experience, there is a strong videogame influence over the visuals, often mimicking first person shooters, fight tournaments and driving games. The flashy visuals and intensive action sequences give Hooked a similar energy to Michael Bay’s Ambulance, remaining lightweight in terms of characterisation yet fully committed to constantly delivering on full tilt action.
The argument over playing violent games and its effect on players in the real world gives Hooked an edge. While it seems as though it’s positioned as a young adult film based on the casting, concept and clean cut style, the violent gameified confrontations make it better suited to to mature audiences. The underlying sci-fi concept is the stuff of comic books, which requires you to go with it for maximum enjoyment. While a little clunky with its dated retro gaming, Hooked has a distinctly ’90s vibration, an old school mindset and a misguided nostalgia in its glorification of guns, woman and money. Going another step further to ground its gamers in reality, it’s refreshing to see that the filmmakers have tended towards real stunts over CGI wherever possible.
“Hands way up!”
Flashy, stylish, well-paced, violent and handsomely mounted, Hooked steers into the very characteristics that make gaming culture so appealing. While it succeeds in terms of its gamer wish fulfilment to some extent, it’s undermined by its superficial handling, flitting between its array of characters without adding enough depth other than circumstantial defining moments. While the casting and performances help separate the good from the bad, there’s just not enough emotional resonance to feel completely immersed. This can work effectively for a straight actioner, but greater emotional investment would have amplified the thrills.
Wielding a high concept, Hooked takes its action very seriously, when some comic relief could have helped smooth things over. There are a handful of moments that seem geared towards comedy but the actors don’t seem to be in on the joke, making it fall a bit flat. Leaning on comedy a bit more regularly could have softened the premise, deemed worthy of the nuthouse at one stage, adding some much-needed wink-wink charm into the mix. While some of the comic moments may have been lost in translation, the overall effect is a bit cold, dry and pedestrian.
Hooked has enough working when it comes to stylish visuals, a fresh-faced cast, good pacing, action sequences and a driving soundtrack to make it enjoyable. However, as adventurous as writer-director Paul Ross makes it, the action movie is compelled and restrained by its lightweight handling, falling prey to the same factors that stunt many video game adaptations. Presenting intense action by way of ciphers, there is some exhilaration in watching all the flash and sizzle but it amounts to a case of style over substance. For action junkies, who want a rush with a distinctly old school and Russian flavour, this movie could be just the ticket but it may be somewhat frustrating for audiences seeking more in the way of character, nuance and depth.
The bottom line: Driving