NOBODY CAN SHOOT cities at night better than Michael Mann—and to its credit, Blackhat mostly takes place in cities at night. A cyberterrorism thriller that stars Chris Hemsworth as a hacker who loves sticking it to the man almost as much as he hates wearing shirts, Blackhat trots all over the globe, from Hong Kong to Jakarta to some dude's USB port. Mostly there's a lot of frantic typing and scrolling code, but every once in a while, bullets will tear into somebody, or Hemsworth will shout, "It's not about zeroes, or ones, or code!" Sometimes it's just about killing bad guys.

In Blackhat's best moments, Mann is in his element: Yeah, swooping a camera through the miniaturized, glowing guts of a computer is a cliché (thanks, every movie that's ever featured a hard drive), but only Mann could imbue such sequences with surreal, discomfiting beauty. And when Blackhat's action beats kick in, Mann pans fast, drops frames, and reminds moviegoers that bullets are things with mass and velocity.

But while Blackhat's script, by Morgan Davis Foehl, at first seems like a perfect fit for Mann's visuals and themes (lonely men, alluring crime, brutal violence), it quickly becomes a bland, bloated thing, leaning on technobabble and contorting into gibberish. (Hemsworth gamely plays a glowering nerd—except in the scenes where Blackhat's script pulls a 180 and requires him to be less Snowden and more Thor.) Mann's best films (Thief, Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice) blend hypnotic stretches of languid, ominous calm with bright flares of intensity. Blackhat, on the other hand, just kind of mumbles and stumbles. One senses it'll eventually fall down, probably landing in a pile alongside The Net and Tron and Swordfish and Hackers.