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SWORD FISH(director: Dominic Sena; screenwriter: Skip Woods; cinematographer: Paul Cameron; editor: Stephen Rivkin; cast: John Travolta (Gabriel Shear), Hugh Jackman (Stanley Jobson), Halle Berry (Ginger), Don Cheadle (Agent Roberts), Vinnie Jones (Marco), Sam Shepard (Senator Reisman), Camryn Grimes (Holly Jobson); Runtime: 120; Warner Brothers; 2001)
This “Swordfish” has a smell to it, like it’s not fresh.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An action-packed high-tech thriller, whose best virtues are that it doesn’t take itself seriously and there’s plenty of action. If you forget a little thing like the story doesn’t make sense and if the theater you are in supplies you with bon-bons, then there’s a chance you might be distracted and lulled into accepting this flashy summertime film at face value.

The film has a snappy “Pulp Fiction” like start, as a puffy John Travolta stares into the camera and his first words are: “You know what the problem with Hollywood is – they make shit.” He rants on by deconstructing the bank robbery in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon,” and goes on to relish what if the bank robbers succeeded! When he gets up to leave, we realize that this cocky guy is heavily armed and is in the middle of a bank heist, and he’s negotiating with the FBI agents over the tense hostage situation. The bank hostages have bombs attached to them, and Travolta threatens mass executions if he’s not allowed to escape. When an FBI sharpshooter kills one of the bank robbers, all hell breaks loose and the film flashes back to 4 days earlier.

We first see one of the world’s best hackers stopped as he tries to enter L.A. from Finland. When he’s questioned by FBI Agent Roberts (Don Cheadle), he can’t tell him whom he works for because he doesn’t know. But when the agent is called away on a phony call, the hacker is executed by some assassins.

In Midland, Texas, ex-felon Stanley Jobson (Jackman), is out on parole after serving 18 months for hacking into the FBI secret files and destroying it with a virus. He’s now reduced to poverty, living in an unkempt trailer, and working as a gas station attendant. He’s also not allowed to see his beloved young daughter Holly who now lives with her porn-star mother and her new hubby, a porn-filmmaker in la-la land.

When sexy temptress Ginger (Halle Berry) shows up at Stanley’s trailer and offers him $100,000 to just meet her boss, all Stanley can say is that he goes back to the slammer if he even touches a computer.

As soon as Stanley is talked into the deal, because he’s promised $10 million and help to get his girl back, the big boss Gabriel (Travolta), who’s in an L.A. swinger’s club, begins to work his menacing charms on him. The film loses its wit and becomes a mindless thriller from here on, as director Dominic Sena (Gone In Sixty Seconds), a parolee himself from schlockmeister producer Jerry Bruckheimer, tries to push the envelope in favor of evil doings and away from making a PG-13 film. He succeeds in making an amoral film, where none of the characters are all good or bad (or for that matter interesting). He leaves us with such an awful feeling, pretty much like this filmmaker left us with in “Gone In Sixty Seconds.” This turns out to be another preposterous flick, but with the trappings that it has something more to say about the evil in the world.

The convoluted plot involves Gabriel and his terrorist group, who are secretly connected with a power-hungry senator (Sam Shepard). They are planning to break into a secret slush fund the government has for an aborted drug operation of theirs called “Swordfish,” where the drug money that has been taken from busted drug lords is kept in impregnable safes. These guys claim to be super-patriots, who are doing this heist to fund a private army and their own nuclear arsenal to counter terrorism wherever it occurs with their own brand of terrorism. They are doing it to make America the safest and most feared country in the world. Their aim is to break into the World Bank located in Los Angeles and steal $9.5 billion via an electronic bank robbery. Stanley’s job is to hack into a few encrypted bank codes and move the money around.

The film has a lukewarm story going for it about an unwilling “common man” type who is trapped into working for the bad guys, and is tailed by the FBI because they want the man he’s working for. Since he’s really a good guy who has done a few bad things in his life only because he believes he was right in doing them, the filmmaker wants us to believe his good instincts will prevail in the end. The film has lots of expensive gadgets to work with, and they are used as explosives. They fill in for the words that stop making sense after a while. There are the usual betrayals and twists in such a story, the maddening conclusion to the hostage situation, and a dubious ending that is slickly done. The ending involves a police chase of a bus and a helicopter lifting the bus airborne to another location, as everything the film has going for it are invested in these action scenes.

This film is about exploding all the toys the big-budget allowed for and keeping the action frenetic and the sex as tawdry as possible. The acting was dreary. Hugh Jackman’s performance was particularly rancid. He was weepy and excitable, but without showing any true feelings. He could access encrypted passwords faster than a speeding bullet, even while having fellatio performed on him by a whore. John Travolta thinks he’s Houdini, but he seems more like a guy getting good money for playing a part that required little acting skills other than to just look sinister and smile occasionally. Halle Berry is the sexpot who when she isn’t putting on a sexy pose, goes topless in one scene and shows us that she has the body for it (But can she act?). The question about her character revolves around whether she’s Travolta’s partner or a DEA agent. She brought nothing to the screen but a pair of nice tits (reportedly baring them for an extra million on her regular contract).

This “Swordfish” has a smell to it, like it’s not fresh. But if you’re looking for crass summertime entertainment, this dish of “Swordfish” can please those who have a very tolerant palate for leftovers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”