The Austin Chronicle


Rated R, 97 min. Directed by Dominic Sena. Starring Sam Shepard, Vinnie Jones, Don Cheadle, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, John Travolta.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Wed., June 13, 2001

It's difficult to synopsize Swordfish, to whittle it down to a digestible nugget. The film (directed by Gone in 60 Seconds' Dominic Sena) is a mish-mash of cops and robbers, broken-family sob stories, and cyber antics … but who are we kidding? The film is about three things: the bewildering, behemoth institution of John Travolta; Halle Berry's breasts; and Hollywood's ongoing pissing contest to produce the definitive bang for moviegoers' buck. John Travolta is laughable as oh-so-slick Gabriel Shear, a criminal mastermind who enlists the aid of Stanley, a washed-up hacker (played by X-Men's goofily rogueish Jackman, who apparently is looking to singlehandedly uproot the public's assumption that all hackers are sickly, cream-puff-complected geek boys). A couple of years back, poor Stanley got busted for hacking his way into the FBI's super-secret files, did some time at Leavenworth, and lost his wife to divorce and his child to a nasty custody battle. Now he's childless, loveless, and broke, reduced to teeing off golf balls -- shirtless -- from the roof of his quaintly dilapidated trailer home. Enter Gabriel's Girl Friday, Ginger (Berry, of the aforementioned breasts), who entices Stanley to come to L.A. in order to discuss a project with Gabriel. Lured by the financial benefits and the promise of getting his kid back, Stanley agrees, and is quickly sucked into Gabriel's project, which turns out to be a bank heist of epic proportions. Things from here get awfully murky, with way, way too much time devoted to Stanley's hacking his way into … well, something really important. Frankly, it's a lot of tedious cyber mumbo-jumbo, a magical, mystical device Sena relies on too often to provide the next “but wait!” twist and turn to the story. But those are purely plot concerns, merely ancillary to the film. In truth, Swordfish is just a vehicle for Travolta to act craaaazy! -- which he does -- and he ain't half-bad. At this point, one's got to wonder if Travolta's Pulp Fiction “comeback” and his impressive turn in Get Shorty were the exceptions to the rule, and really the guy's just one big ham (or turkey). He's amusingly game in his so-bad-it's-guffawingly-good performance as the psychopathic Gabriel, bent on world peace by way of nuclear-fortified world domination (don't worry -- I don't get it either). Berry, too, is fun to watch, and not simply because of the seconds-long splash of skin that's been hyped so enthusiastically by the media. But, of course, that's what's bringing 'em into the theatres in droves, along with those fabled explosions. Swordfish has got bombs, bombs, and more bombs, plus car chases, a passel of TNT-strapped hostages, even a school bus airlifted a hundred feet up by a helicopter. The action is constant, often pointless, definitely gratuitous, and breathlessly fun. As far as the pissing contest goes, well, Swordfish could write its name in the snow and have ink to spare … and that's probably a pretty good metaphor for how adolescently dumb/fun this picture is.

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