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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted July 26, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

As many know, John Travolta's career has taken another downward slump after both "Pulp Fiction" and "Broken Arrow", among other titles, made it seem as if he had made a complete comeback. "Swordfish" is not going to help matters a great deal, but it's a very slightly a more entertaining feature than either of his pictures or director Dominic Sena's last film ("Gone In 60 Seconds"), for that matter. Still, it's not what I would call a good "Summer" picture, or just a "good film", even.

Travolta stars as Gabriel Shear, a cyber-criminal with a questionable past who is attempting to engineer a 9.5 billion dollar heist from a secret government account. He's got an assistant in Ginger (Halle Berry), but he needs a hacker to get him into the system and create a "worm" to syphon off the cash into his accounts. That's where Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) comes in. The only problem is that Stan was busted for hacking years ago and although he's already served his time in prison, he's not allowed to go near a computer - or his daughter, who is with her mother - and her mother is ready to fight a custody battle that Stanley can't afford.

After Gabriel attempts to test Stan by making him hack into the department of defense at gunpoint within 60 seconds, he makes him a greater offer - 10 million dollars if he can complete the heist. Certainly enough to hire a lawyer to get his daughter back and live in a place other than the trailer he's currently in. But, as with any film of this type, nothing is as easy at it seems. Stanley has an old acquaintence following him in FBI agent Roberts (Don Cheadle recycling his "Traffic" role).

Although I've attempted to start, there's really no point in going too far into the plot of "Swordfish", which, like many Summer movies, is happier simply blwoing stuff up and making every shot into some sort of visual moment than telling much of a story. It's not as if it just forgot about plot, it really doesn't seem like it cares much about it in the first place. I can certainly accept that in a Summer movie, but "Swordfish" in movie terms goes like this: the visuals are the popcorn and the plot is the topping. And I think the butter went stale a couple of days prior. There's so much double/triple agent stuff going on that the film itself sometimes seems to be confused about just who's who. The explosions and action sequences mask the fact that there's really not a whole lot going on beyond the bare minimum of the genre. And, because hey why not, Berry goes topless (and reportedly earned quite a pretty penny to bare all).

Maybe some of this would have been more entertaining if the performances were taken to another level. Travolta's best bad-guy performance still as (and as far as I'm concerned always will be) in "Broken Arrow". As Vic Deakins, Travolta played a terrific bad guy - kind enough to offer another character a Coke one minute, then going about blowing up the entire Southwest United States the next. He'd completely lost it - an energetic, funny power-trip that was scary and amusing at the same time. Here, his portrayal of Shear is just another stone-cold bad guy that we've seen before. Jackman is fine, but unexceptional as Stanley. There's one great scene in the film where he meets his daughter again and tells her that he's found a way to get her back. It's the one human, emotional scene in the picture and it's wonderfully acted between the two performers.

And it's a quick moment. It's odd, really. I sit and watch a film like "Swordfish", with a bus flying through the air attached to a helicopter, swinging around and barely keeping from crashing into buildings...and I really don't care that much. I had a similar reaction to Sena's "Gone In 60 Seconds". I know I should be thrilled at all of this chaos, but I really don't find myself caring in the least. Even Michael Bay (well, not counting "Pearl Harbor") has done a better job combining visuals with at least some tiny bit of coherent plot and characters that you at least slightly care enough about to be concerned with what happens to them.

There's a speech by Travolta early on in the film that talks about how bad the films that Hollywood makes are. By the end, I'd agreed with him, since I'd just sat through another mediocre offering. There is the excuse that it's just another "Summer" movie, but there's certainly been better Summer fare in recent years.

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