Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 7, 2021)
Though it’s only April, I think 2021’s Dark Web: Cicada 3301 enjoys the early pole position as “the year’s worst movie title”. Still, a clunky moniker doesn’t doom a film to failure, so I figured I’d give it a look anyway.
Connor (Jack Kesy) operates as a talented hacker. Via his online activities, he discovers “Cicada 3301”, a treasure hunt that might open the door to recruitment for a secret society.
Along with his art expert friend Avi (Ron Funches) and a librarian named Gwen (Conor Leslie), Connor leaps into the world of this contest. He finds outside pressures, though, as some aggressive NSA agents want him to solve the puzzle for them.
Cicada offers the directorial debut of actor Alan Ritchson, and I must admit it gives off the odor of a vanity project. Not only did Ritchson direct the flick, but also he co-wrote the screenplay and acted in it.
That seems like a lot for a guy to bite off in his initial push as a feature filmmaker. Ritchson has appeared mainly in supporting parts via TV shows like Titans and movies such as Hunger Games: Catching Fire, so Cicada becomes a big leap for the 36-year-old.
Does Ritchson manage to make a successful move to the director’s chair? Occasionally, as Cicada manages to offer some decent entertainment.
For a while, at least, as I can’t claim the movie keeps us with us on a consistent basis. After a big, brash opening, Cicada becomes less interesting as it goes.
This doesn’t make the rest of the flick bad, but I get the sense Ritchson can’t figure out where to go with the story. Cicada offers a myriad of influences, and eventually, these turn into less than the sum of their parts.
Hoo boy, does Cicada churn out lots of reflections from other films! The whole thing sports a very 1990s feel, and we find a serious Bruckheimer vibe much of the time.
In addition, specific connections abound. Among other flicks, you’ll see clear links to movies like Matrix, Da Vinci Code and Eyes Wide Shut.
As noted, Cicada seems brash and lively for a while, but it goes through a mix of tonal shifts – more than it can comfortably accommodate. Perhaps Ritchson feared he wouldn’t get another shot behind the camera so he wanted to pack in everything he could imagine here, but it leads to a clumsy, unnatural narrative.
Again, this goes fine for the first act, but the longer Cicada runs, the less coherent and effective it becomes. The changes in tone become more jarring and distracting.
Cicada offers some interesting elements and I admire its ambition. However, it doesn’t hang together, and it wears out its welcome long before it ends.
Footnote: a mid-credits tag scene appears.