" For your information, my life is a living Hell "
— Elizabeth Hurley (as the devil), Bedazzled

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Swordfish is the explodin’est movie of the year. There are lots of explosions, and fast or slow, big or bigger, they’re all loud. If you like loud explosions, I guess that’s a recommendation.

Swordfish is one of those action movies that doesn’t obey the laws of physics or good screenwriting, but still makes you smile (as you’re shaking your head) because it’s so over-the-top.

Jackman the Hack-Man

Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman hold an X-Men reunion in SwordfishJohn Travolta is Gabriel Shear, a greasy-haired megalomaniacal terrorist. He recruits the world’s best hacker to get at a forgotten government bank account. But Gabriel also has a mean streak, and his plan involves using hostages to get the bandwidth needed to hack into a nine billion dollar account. (The less you know about computers, the more plausible the plot will sound.)

Stan (Hugh Jackman, fresh off his X-Men debut) is the hacker. He’s been arrested before, and as part of his probation, he’s not allowed to touch a computer. But Gabriel’s money and his lovely assistant Ginger (Halle Berry, also fresh from X-Men), convince him to break parole. (Screenwriter Skip Woods helps to convince Stan by writing him a daughter, then threatening her life.)

Jackman looks like a young Clint Eastwood but with more smirk and less grimace. He upstages Travolta in the good looks department, and he’s even able to make some of the movie’s stupider moments more palatable (like a montage of him computer hacking, usually a visually boring undertaking).

For his part, Travolta gets to play a smart villain, but only in places. For example, he’s willing to ruthlessly kill hostages, which gives him leverage over the good guys. He even devises a fiendishly clever way to keep the hostages in his realm. Very smart. Unfortunately, the movie itself isn’t half as smart as Gabriel is supposed to be, which makes it hard for him to come across as brilliant. And no, Travolta doesn’t pull off any acting miracles.

Sink or Swim

Swordfish may sound like fun, but it does sink pretty low.

For example, although the opening scene is gripping, we haven’t met any of the characters yet. So rather than evoking genuine concern, the film evokes an indecent curiosity — the same morbid fascination that makes Columbine and Oklahoma City big ratings boosters.

Later, someone describes Gabriel as living “in a world beyond yours” and the movie cuts to Travolta in an expensive-looking sports car, commanding a handful of prostitute/groupies. This shallow, uninspired vision of success and happiness allows Sena to play with the latest cars and show us a screenful of T&A.

Perhaps worst of all, and most embarrassing, is a scene of Halle Berry flashing her tits for Hugh Jackman as the camera leers and lingers. The nudity is completely gratuitous, an apt reminder that summer movies are aimed at immature men.

May I Recommend the Swordfish?

So Swordfish isn’t a very good movie. Yet in spite of its obvious, visible flaws, the movie works viscerally, both at the beginning, and toward the end after a two-act flashback. The final (and opening) scene of a bank robbery and hostage negotiation drew me in.

I suppose can halfheartedly recommend it, especially if you’re trying to beat the summer heat in an air-conditioned theater with a nice tall overpriced soft drink.

I can also confidently recommend it if you like loud explosions.