SWORDFISH. Warner Brothers, 2001. John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Sam Shepard, Vinnie Jones, Camryn Grimes. Directed by Dominic Sena.


   As a recently released felon, famed computer hacker Stanley Jobson (Jackman) is recruited by the beautiful and alluring Ginger (Halle Berry) to work for the mysterious (and ruthless) Gabriel Shear (Travolta). Needing money to help regain custody of his young daughter (Camryn Grimes), Stanley accepts, and during the rest of the movie he learns to regret his decision, many times, over and over again.

   This is pretty much one of those movies where you are better off not asking questions and sitting back to enjoy the ride. If, that is, you are not bored with watching someone typing at a keyboard and pretending they are breaking into various money accounts scattered around the world. The less-meaningful (but eye spectacular) action that takes place is largely confined to a mini-prologue that works about as well as anything in the movie (a bank under siege with hostages wired to blow up) and in the last thirty minutes or so, when all of the safety latches are set free.

   Lots of large-scale explosives going off, in other words. Cars careening around busy city streets and smashing into each other, large guns being fired and causing all kinds of havoc, and tons of other vehicles of several makes and models veering out of control and smashing into tall buildings and on several different levels. That still leaves an hour to fill, which of course does not mean there are not plenty of bad guys willing to do all kinds of bad things in those remaining sixty minutes.

   Travolta and Jackman have the good parts, and both do well in them, with Travolta taking (in my opinion) top honors as a truly Machiavellian mastermind, over the top and subtly clever at the same time. Amazing. (Unfortunately, with the need for pyrotechnics to keep the action crowd happy, “over the top” seems to prevail, more often than not, over common sense.)

   Halle Berry appears too aware of herself to be truly sexy, but those commentators who have described her much-maligned topless scene as “gratuitous” should watch the movie again.

   Or if not, at least the ending. (Think subtle.)

— August 2004