Swordfish (2001) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, language, sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Sam Shepard, Vinnie Jones, Drea de Matteo, Tate Donovan (cameo)
Director: Dominic Sena
Screenplay: Skip Woods
Review published June 9, 2001
While one may find the opening speech by Travolta (Battlefield Earth, The General's Daughter) regarding the sad state of cinema and its lack of realism to be tongue-in-cheek irony, it still does little to justify the following 90 minutes of high-gloss over-the-top predictability. Swordfish is flashy and stylish, but empty to the core -- fast-food entertainment for people who want things quick, even if they are still hungry an hour afterward.
It seems that 15 years ago some money was left floating around from a DEA crackdown that, through interest, has multiplied itself into $9.5 billion. Gabriel Shear (Travolta) heads a rogue anti-terrorist group out to snatch the money for themselves to fund their organization, but problems persist due to the seemingly impossible encryption holding these funds in the hands of the Department of Defense. Reformed super-hacker Stanley Jobson (Jackman, Someone Like You) is drafted into helping their scheme to crack the code and help him get back with his estranged daughter once again.
Granted, Swordfish is entertaining trash that can be enjoyed if one can suspend the most liberal amounts of disbelief. However, there was a little more called for than I could muster, and more often than not, I found myself laughing at one-dimensional characters do the dumbest things for little or no reason than for titillation meant to please undiscriminating audiences.
While I must admit, I am no expert on the process of hacking, I am sufficiently knowledgeable enough in computers to know that someone cannot solve 128-bit encryption in 60 seconds...or 60 millennia, when given nothing to utilize but his own brain. How do you think I felt when he solved 512-bit...how about 1024-bit?!? How about a man so scared of breaking the law that he doesn't touch a computer for years yet when confronted by federal agents jumps to almost certain death off of a steep cliff without knowing why they want to question him -- or why they jump after him themselves -- especially when their partner easily drives to the scene two seconds later -- and not even a scratch on any of them?
These are but two of dozens of such hard-to-swallow-or-understand actions that occur time and time again throughout Swordfish. By the end, in what should surely have been a slam-bang piece of incredible awe-inspiring action, we can but shrug at yet another feat of ludicrous proportions from the mind of Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds, Kalifornia). What saves Swordfish from being total trash is an occasional hiccup of inspiration that once in a while bubbles up to the surface. Yet, these moments seem misplaced amid such formulaic fare that their full effect is never achieved. Sure, it has the look of The Matrix and the feel of The Usual Suspects, but Swordfish is a pretender through-and-through.
©2001 Vince Leo