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'Swordfish': Splashy but Senseless

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 8, 2001


    'Swordfish' John Travolta, Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry star in "Swordfish." (Warner Bros.)
Oh, hi. I was just examining the macho DNA of "Swordfish," trying to make sense of its cellular structure, you know? Let's see. We've got:

* An explosion that copycats the "Matrix" freeze-action effects.

* Halle Berry's naked upper torso.

* Hugh Jackman's naked upper torso.

* John Travolta's weird haircut.

* A bus dangling from a helicopter.

What we have here is, pretty much, an action opera designed to elicit Beavis and Butt-head-level appreciation, rather than effete applause from the critics. As in, heh heh heh, that was cool or Whoa, how much did they pay Halle Berry to do that?

Actually, there's an answer to that. Berry was paid an extra $500,000 for her semi-nude sunbathing scene. This movie is all about the acting.

Not much more to report, I'm afraid. Oh sure, there's a sort-of story, in which Gabriel Shear (Travolta), a shady, all-powerful guy who doesn't even blink when the FBI hisses at him, asks Stanley Jobson (Jackman), a master hacker just out of jail, to help him in a daring billion-dollar scheme.

As usual in action movies, the hero – that's Jobson – is forced into action because of a defenseless family member and/or the sirenlike qualities of the sexy female lead.

In this case, the family member is Jobson's preteen daughter Holly (Camryn Grimes) who walks around – you know – vulnerably for most of the movie; and then there's Berry, who spends most of the movie dressing, undressing or assuming provocative positions.

Maybe they gave her an earlier, cleaner draft of the script, mumbling something about "possible changes to come, vis-a-vis your clothing." Then, of course, they offered that second check.

There's a great deal of keyboard clattering in director Dominic ("Kalifornia") Sena's movie, too, as hacker Stanley attempts to bust the computer access codes of various important government agencies. And you'll see all kinds of cool computer codes on the screen – cool if that's what you're into.

And lots of steel surfaces. Everywhere this movie goes, you're face to face with steel surfaces, in nightclubs and people's cool homes. And there are scantily clad women and steely men everywhere, all of them waiting to serve all-powerful Gabe. With all the insidious global stuff he's up to, you wonder why he'd surround himself with this army. Payday alone would take three days out of his busy week.

I cite all of these things as randomly as they appear in the movie, because I can make no particular sense of the big picture – only the bits and pieces. But if you've paid to see "Swordfish" in the first place, chances are, you're not looking for "The Sorrow and the Pity." Just that other cool stuff.

"Swordfish" (R, 99 minutes) – Contains sexual activity, violence, obscenity and emotional intensity.


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