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Stale as ‘Swordfish’

In the Grand Tradition of ‘Battlefield Earth,’ Travolta Sinks Again

By Sandra M. Chung and Joy M. Forsythe

Staff Writers

Directed by Dominic Sena

Written by Skip Woods

Starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry

Rated R

Your name is Stanley Jobson. This is your life: A few years ago you were making waves as the second best hacker in the world (as rated by Hacker Magazine). Then you were caught and you had to rot in prison while your evil porn star ex-wife turned your daughter into a fashion victim with a cell phone. Now you’re paroled but living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere (Texas) and pining away for your daughter since your ex-wife’s divorce lawyer managed to pin an indefinite restraining order on you. It looks like you’re going to spend the rest of your life driving golf balls at oil rigs.

That is, until Ginger (Halle Berry) sashays into your trailer and offers you a huge chunk of cash in exchange for your illegal services. All you have to do is pass her boss’s test, that is, you must hack into the Department of Defense in less than a minute with a gun to your head and a girl named Helga giving you a blow job. Do you pass? No. Do you get the job anyway? Of course.

And then you spend the rest of the movie trying to find the answers to these questions: (1) who exactly is this boss guy (John Travolta), anyway? (2) Who is Ginger and why is she with him? (3) When do the world’s two greatest computer hackers find time to maintain fashionable wardrobes, even suntans, and washboard abs? And (4) why and how do producers and studios keep pouring money into more bad Travolta movies like Swordfish?

Apparently Travolta has made the production of expensive, bad movies a family business. A look at the credits reveals many Travoltalings among the extras. In retrospect he ought to have been an extra, too, as he turns in a third-rate performance as Gabriel. He sports a dye job from hell and a shallow puddle of obsessive evil, a far cry from his performance in Face/Off.

Halle Berry’s presence is gratuitous; the only thing she brings to the movie is sheer sex appeal. Jackman takes his role as seriously as he possibly can even though he is sorely miscast as Jobson. He doesn’t miss a beat with his clichÉ lines but occasionally he looks as if he can’t possibly fathom how he got himself into this mess of a movie.

The script is so remarkably devoid of character development that the actors have virtually nothing to work with; no amount of acting talent could rescue the nonsense that is this movie.

This is director Sena’s second major directing job; he recycles the filming locations and bad camera angles from Gone in Sixty Seconds. Sena makes the age-old action movie director’s error: assume the expensive digital effects, numerous super-slow explosions, and impossible car chases will carry the entire movie all by themselves. And what is the point to filming the first scene out of focus and drifting about?

It’s as if Sena tried to make his film look like a home video shot with a professional camera. Soon he will issue a press statement that reads “I confess; I gave my 98-year-old grandmother an enormous, expensive studio camera that I didn’t bother to teach her to use, and told her to film the first 15 minutes of my movie. She tried really hard but her arthritis doesn’t let her hold it straight and her cataracts make her misjudge the focus.” Then everyone will laugh and a reporter will say, “We knew the whole movie was a joke! How much did it really cost you, anyway?”

Most filmmakers assign someone to maintain continuity -- i.e., someone who makes sure the hero doesn’t magically switch guns or hair color while the camera rests for a split second on a co-star. Apparently the producers of this film didn’t bother to hire a continuity man. While fleeing from the FBI, Jobson rolls several hundred yards down a steep, dusty precipice, with two agents in hot pursuit. At the bottom of the hill all three men are completely free of dust and dishevelment except for a few rips the wardrobe director put in their otherwise spotlessly clean and well-ironed blazers.

The technical adviser was also on holiday. I’m not anywhere near as computer literate as the majority of people on campus, but I couldn’t resist cracking up when Berry and Travolta started throwing around technical terminology relating to encryption, or when the word “algorithm” showed up plainly misspelled on Jobson’s multi-display supercomputer. The screensaver-like animation of the computer “decrypting” the security codes is highly amusing.

I spent the entire time laughing at how ridiculous the movie was and how ridiculous the audience was. The audience was probably at least 80 percent male; someone shouted a testosterone-crazed comment every 15 minutes or so. Halle Berry’s many exposures and phallic references to ball bearings certainly didn’t help anything.

All in all, Swordfish reeks of sexually frustrated, aggressive nerd angst. Were it well-directed and well-written, it could pass itself off as campy and outrageous -- a movie does not have to be believable or even take itself seriously to be good -- but it has so many gaping holes it flounders (no pun intended).