Wednesday 4 May 2011

Movie Review: Swordfish (2001)

Choose a random clutch of movie stars lacking in any chemistry, cast most of them in the wrong roles, mix in a limp and incomprehensible technobabble-heavy script, garnish with superfluous action sequences and over-the-top violence, sit back and cringe as the mess unfolds.

It is difficult to imagine how a film featuring John Travolta, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman and Don Cheadle (not to mention Vinnie Jones and Sam Shepard) could be botched so badly, but director Dominic Sena, in way over his head, embraces the incompetence with aplomb. Sena, whose normal pool depth is the shallow waters of music videos, disappeared from directing movies for eight years after Swordfish, presumably to allow memories to fade.

Gabriel Shear (Travolta) is some sort of mega-rich, ultra-shady and uber-cool manipulator, operating outside the law with wild abandon. Stanley Jobson (Jackman) is a down-and-out expert computer hacker just released from jail and desperate to regain custody of his daughter. Gabriel uses his mistress Ginger (Berry) to lure Stanley into accepting a $10 million assignment involving hacking into some government database to siphon off billions of somehow abandoned dollars. Agent Roberts (Cheadle), who threw Stanley in jail to begin with, is curious about what Gabriel is up to, while Ginger is revealed as a Drug Enforcement Agency agent. There is also a sinister Senator Reisman (Shepard) attempting to influence events using fake smiles and contrived dialogue.

After endless scenes of computer screens displaying nonsense, fingers tap-tap-tapping furiously at keyboards, manic car chases and midnight street shoot-outs, events climax in a ridiculous bank heist that is then topped-off by an even more farcical bus-dangling-from-a-helicopter fiasco.

Travolta tackles the role of Gabriel Shear with unbridled relish bordering on satanic intensity. Jackman sleepwalks through the movie in mock earnestness, while Berry's attempt at a sultry seductress falls flat, and never flatter than in her much touted topless scene.

The script by Skip Woods makes half-hearted attempts at explaining the hacking world, but quickly gives up and settles for images of what looks like a kid's plan for a simple Lego structure self-assembling on a black-and-green screen as a surrogate for Something Really Important going on. Swordfish equally makes an unconvincing attempt to provide Gabriel Shear with motivation for the carnage that he is causing by introducing yet another top-secret government anti-terrorism agency, and this just makes the story more ludicrous.

Compared to Swordfish, any James Bond movie would be elevated to a highly intellectual artistic masterpiece, and this falsely magnified appreciation of other films must remain as Swordfish's only achievement.

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