Swordfish
review by Gregory Avery, 8 June 2001

During the opening moments of Swordfish, John Travolta, wearing dark clothing and seated against a dark background, begins speaking about the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, in which Al Pacino played a man who held several people in a bank hostage. Was there anything wrong with the film? Watching Travolta as he talks, the camera shifts about, moves out of, then in to, focus, as if mimicking the twists and turns of his unfolding argument. In the film, Travolta says, Pacino would've gotten a lot more results, and quicker, if he had started executing hostages right away -- not just one, but several. That would've made an impression, although what endeared people to the film, at the time, was the fact that Al Pacino's character was not an evil person.

Travolta's quick, artful delivery of this scene draws us in before we even have a chance to say, "Tarantino, anybody?" And then the entire scene jumps back, and we find out that we're not in the middle of a one-on-one conversation, but in the middle of another hostage crisis, a huge one, with bombs planted everywhere, ready to go off. And when one of them does, the picture takes a balletic, 180-degree slow turn around the occurrence, so that we get a clear look at all of what ensues, glass shards, objects in mid-air, billows of fire -- the works. If it had stopped there, Swordfish would have been fine. Instead, the story skips back to show us what lead up to that event, and the movie immediately turns into trash.

Hugh Jackman, a computer hacker and convicted felon out on parole, is whacking golf balls in the middle of the Texas oil plains when Halle Berry shows up, shakes her fanny at him, and gets him to fly out with her to meet with her boss (Travolta) in L.A., where he makes the hacker an irresistible offer, even if it would land him in jail again: create a computer "worm" that would infiltrate financial accounts and abscond with their holdings. The hacker, desperate for money so he can get his young daughter (Camrym Grimes) away from his pills-and-booze-soaked ex-wife and her porn-king boyfriend (how these two people have managed to retain sole custody of the child is never delved into), agrees. Don Cheadle turns up as a police inspector who, when the hacker attempts to elude him by, literally, throwing himself over a cliff, throws himself over the cliff right after him, with the camera following him down, down, down -- a scene that will doubtless epitomize how an immensely talented actor can be immensely wasted in a movie for years to come.

Then, two-thirds of the way through, it turns out that Travolta's bar sinister character and his gang are going to bust into a bank to get the dough they're after. So the whole computer hacker, infiltrate-from-the-outside plotline has been for naught! Why this sudden and complete jettisoning of the plotline (and, possibly, the audience)? The director Dominic Sena, who last year gave is all those ear-splitting, pea-brained car chases and crashes in Gone in 60 Seconds, likes to race things around and blow stuff up real good. So, here, we end up with a whole lot of car chases, car crashes, explosions, crash-and-burn, and, in one of the most idiotic spectacles in years, a bomb-laden bus being hoisted, on cables, by helicopter and flown over the skyscrapers of Los Angeles.

Well, Hugh Jackman shows, particularly in his scenes with young Camryn Grimes, that he is an actor just waiting for a good role in a great movie to happen. Travolta can still squeeze a little bit more juice out of his smiling, debonair devil persona. Don Cheadle is hopefully still in one piece so that he can go on to work in movies more deserving of his abilities. And, oh, yes, as promised on the recent M.T.V. Movie Awards telecast, Halle Berry does show us her bodaceous-ta-tas, albeit only for a second or two, and it does nothing to take our minds off of the fact that all four lead actors would be better off working in some other, any other, movie than this.

Swordfish, by the way, was the password Groucho had to give Chico in order to get into the speakeasy in "Horsefeathers." Maybe THAT'S the movie Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle should've made.

Directed by:
Dominic Sena

Starring:
John Travolta
Halle Berry
Hugh Jackman
Don Cheadle
Vinnie Jones
Sam Shepard

Written by:
Skip Jones

Rated:
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying
 parent or adult
guardian.

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