Swordfish (R) No Rating

Review Date: June 11th, 2001

John Travolta stars in this cyber-action thriller about an ex-government spy engaged in an underground war against terrorists and anti-American sentiment. He and his lovely cohort Ginger (Halle Berry) enlist the help of convicted superhacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) to help steal $6 billion in unused government funds to finance their operation.


Gabriel Shear (Travolta) has set his sights on a government slush fund established several years ago by the Drug Enforcement Agency in a money-laundering scheme, now worth nearly $10 billion. In order to pull off the heist, he needs to find someone who can get into the bank's computers quickly enough to access the DEA money while deleting all records of the transfer. Shear is left with one option--Stanley Jobson--recently released from jail after serving two years for hacking into an FBI program that performed unethical surveillance on regular Americans. Jobson is reluctant to do the job even after Shear offers him $10 million because the terms of his parole prevent him from coming within 50 yards of a computer. So Shear comes up with an offer that he cannot refuse--a chance to be reunited with his daughter Holly. Jobson's boozy ex-wife took Holly and married an X-rated film director during his hiatus from society, leaving Jobson to live alone in a trailer. With everything to gain, Jobson accepts the deal and enters Shear's world where people are obviously not what they seem.


The film starts off with a close-up shot of Travolta giving an interesting spiel about why Sonny Wortzik's bank robbery attempt failed in Dog Day Afternoon and how Hollywood just produces crap. This is probably his most credible scene in the film. For the most part, it is hard to take a goofy looking Travolta seriously as a menacing freedom fighter. Soft spoken and chubby, with a ridiculous hair cut, he looks completely ludicrous standing in the front seat of a speeding sports car with a gun in each hand, shooting at enemies from both sides. As for Berry, when did she become a multi-million dollar actress--with Introducing Dorothy Dandridge? Her acting is terrible and her character Ginger is an oversimplified version of every man's fantasy femme fatale. She's almost as overdone as Jackman's character Jobson, a dedicated father pining away for his daughter, cruelly victimized by a she-devil wife. Yet Jackson turns out a clever performance, despite some corny scenes, as does Don Cheadle (Traffic) and ex-soccer player Vinnie Jones (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).


The two great action scenes in Swordfish come during the film's first and last 10 minutes. In the opening sequence, director Dominic Sena (Kalifornia, Gone in 60 Seconds) delivers an intense slow-motion view as a hostage wrapped in dynamite and ball bearings explodes during the climactic bank robbery. The camera pans a full 360 degrees around the scene, visually taking the viewer through walls and police cars. It is the best and most dramatic scene in the film. Towards the end, Shear's getaway bus complete with hostages is airlifted over downtown Los Angeles--it's too harebrained to believe but incredibly well done. Though there are a few action sequences sprinkled throughout the film, including an insanely long tumble down a cliff by Jackson and Cheadle, they are not enough to make up for such an implausible story, which loses its momentum after such a promising start. While it is visually impressive and accompanied by a great soundtrack featuring Paul Oakenfold, the film tries too hard to be clever with blatant and unoriginal plot twists. To call Swordfish an out-and-out action thriller would be paying it a compliment.

Bottom line

Lacking sufficient action to detract from a basically stupid story, Warner Bros.' first summer blockbuster release fails to live up to the hype. While two great action sequences open and close the film, everything in between may leave you disappointed.