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'Sneakers' still charming two decades later

Movies about technology are kind of screwed at this point. The car phones and green text of 20 years ago already looks as ancient as the prototype for the club. The technology in sci-fi movies like Sunshine and Minority Report is essentially what Apple plans to release in 2012.

But you know what, maybe we should be thinking of these as period pieces, but with beepers instead of wigs and tent-sized dresses. Because 1992's Sneakers is proof a tech-centric movie has a much longer shelf life than the gizmos it features.

Robert Redford leads a team of experts paid to expose flaws in high-end security systems. But that's before the NSA comes to him with an off-the-books job: They believe a California mathematician, funded by Russian scientists, has just invented a device that can decrypt any system. Redford and his team have to recover the device -- or he'll be in jail for the crimes he's been running from for years.

I liked Sneakers a lot in my early teens. This is because Sneakers has just about everything a nerdy teenage boy could want. Besides ... you know. Don't act like you don't. Nobody's buying it. What I'm talking about in Sneakers is cool dudes with nicknames rocking out on technology and going their own way. Sure, that technology is humorously quaint now -- the Federal Reserve's network looks like it's also hosting Legend of the Red Dragon and Trade Wars -- but at the time, this was top-grade stuff.

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson, Sneakers is pretty much the perfect test for how much patience/affection you have for well-crafted Hollywood genre movies. It isn't stand-out brilliant, but it's a well-plotted espionage thriller with a nice sense of humor. David Strathairn, a blind phone hacker, reads Playboy in Braille. Dan Aykroyd's forever harping on insane conspiracy theories.

Those two, by the way, are actually among the smallest stars in Sneakers. The cast here is more impressive than if the Norse pantheon came to Earth to make a wrestling movie. Alongside Redford, there's Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, Ben Kingsley and James Earl Jones. That's like Ocean's 11-level casting madness right there.

Yet I feel like Sneakers falls through the cracks, overshadowed by the much shinier Mission Impossible. I always confuse it with Scanners, too, despite its total and unfortunate lack of exploding heads. Learn from my mistakes! You will be charmed.

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