THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Swordfish opens with Gabriel Shear (John Travolta), a slick criminal, proclaiming that Hollywood movies are "shit" because they are illogical and unrealistic. The irony here is that this monologue comes at the start of a movie that is itself illogical and unrealistic. Was the irony intentional? Hard to say, but I think we can safely assume that Gabriel would hate the movie in which he is a central character. I wouldn't use his wording to describe this picture, but given the film's appealing cast and compelling subject matter, the best it can do is to qualify as a disappointment.

John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry go online in Swordfish
Hugh Jackman plays Stanley Jobson , a notorious computer hacker who has retired to a small trailer in Texas after getting busted. He is visited by the mysterious Ginger (Halle Berry). She says her "employer" wants to speak with Stanley and is willing to pay $100,000 just for him to listen. Stanley refuses, but Ginger convinces him to take the meeting. (Here's a cliché: she reminds him that the money would go a long way toward hiring a lawyer to help him get custody of his beloved daughter.) When Stanley meets Gabriel, he is tempted by big money and plenty of blondes willing to service him. But he also realizes that Gabriel is up to something very illegal; he just doesn't know what it is.

Although Stanley wants to walk away, he keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into Gabriel's plan. He is seduced by Ginger, who gratuitously flashes her breasts at him. Later on, she says, "I'm not what you think I am," and at that moment, we know exactly what she is (it's not hard to guess that little plot twist). Eventually, the cop (Don Cheadle) who busted Stanley shows up to ask for help in nailing Gabriel. Trusting no one, the hacker must find a way to outsmart everyone without winding up dead.

Computer hacking (or cracking as it is more accurately called within the community) is one of the most fascinating subjects around; the ethical issues involved prove that accelerated technology is a virtual Pandora's Box. I've never done any cracking or hacking, but have done a lot of reading on the subject. To its credit, Swordfish has done its homework. The few scenes involving cracking are generally authentic and reasonably exciting.

The problem is that there isn't much behind them. Gabriel's plan is never fully explained. Halfway though the film, we still don't know exactly who he is or what he's trying to do. Near the end, there is a perfunctory explanation, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Movie villains usually go into too much detail about their evil plots; this one goes into too little detail.

All this confusion takes us to the grand finale, in which Gabriel and crew make an escape attempt in a bus being hoisted through Los Angeles airspace by a helicopter. The ending is the most inept part of Swordfish. The screenplay (by Skip Woods) tries to serve up a twist ending, but what happens isn't fair. It requires people to perfectly anticipate the actions of other characters - things they could never know for sure. And the major part of the "surprise" is never explained; we are just supposed to take it for granted. (If anyone can tell me who that guy was, I'd love to hear from you.)

Swordfish was directed by Dominic Sena who, after Kalifornia and Gone in 60 Seconds, is 0-for-3 in the good movie department. He comes a little closer here, though. Despite a lot of inanity, Swordfish almost - almost - works on the level of good trash. The action scenes are efficiently directed (particularly a botched rescue attempt in the first ten minutes) and the performances are good. I especially liked Jackman, who is becoming one of my favorite actors. He's very likable, a good hero because he seems so fundamentally decent.

I understand that summer action movies are not always about logic, or reason, or meaning. They are not deep. They are exercises in energy, adrenaline, motion. Swordfish is moderately entertaining on those counts, but in the end it pushes its luck just a bit too far. I'm willing to buy the idea of a flying bus, but a movie had better distract me from all logical thought while I'm doing it. Swordfish can't pull that one off.

( 1/2 out of four)

Swordfish is rated R for language, violence and a some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
Return to The Aisle Seat