Fun with the friendly hackers

SNEAKERS, with Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier and David Strathairn. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. On Panasia circuit.

SNEAKERS is so professionally executed that it demands admiration. Whether you like it or not you have to admire the craftsmanship and years of work that have gone into its production.

Everything about the film stinks of establishment Hollywood, but that does not detract from what is a thoroughly entertaining piece.

The humour is inoffensive, its stars are established and sure fire box office draws, but who cares, Sneakers is fun.

Topping the bill is Robert Redford who gives a charming, if typecast, performance as Martin Bishop, a reformed computer hacker, a refugee from the political idealism of the late-1960s, a man now running his own team of hi-tech experts.

The job of these ''sneakers'' is to infiltrate computer-based security systems to let clients know just how fallible their anti-theft arrangements are.

Director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams ) has put together a remarkably clean piece of cinema with this film.

Sidney Poitier, making a welcome return to a film worthy of his talents, plays Crease, a 22-year veteran of the CIA laid off for his foul temper.

An enormously fat Dan Aykroyd does a fine job of portraying Mother, an electronics wizard convinced that much of recent history is a fiction constructed by the US Government.

The rest of Bishop's team consists of Carl (River Phoenix) a 19-year-old school dropout, expelled for hacking into a computer and changing his grades, and Whistler, a blind sound recordist and technician.

The other major player in the film is Cosmo (Ben Kingsley), an old schoolfriend of Bishop's who is working for the mob but harbouring a secret desire to change the world for the better through manipulation of information technology.

And then there are the film's other stars, the gadgets. Bishop's misfits use a whole array of fascinating surveillance equipment and computer wizardry to crack their cases.

Watching Sneakers is like being a small child in a toy shop full of intriguing playthings. You can't hope to get your hands on most of what you see, but you can have great fun thinking about what you would do if you could own one.