Swordfish (2001)

(In theaters, June 2001) This hits the spot for anyone just looking for a mildly ambitious action film. Starts with a literal bang -a slow-motion explosion shot that will make you cheer in sadistic delight- that’s never fully equaled afterward. The rest of the film is far more ordinary, though there is a fun set-piece by the end featuring an airborne bus. Hugh Jackman and John Travolta do their best with the material they’re given, but it’s Halle Berry’s wonderful topless scene which makes us forget how underwritten her character is. Mix the deficient pacing of Gone In Sixty Seconds and the technological inaccuracy of Hackers and you end up with a pretty good idea of Swordfish‘s tone, down to the criminal underuse of Vinnie Jones by director Dominic Sena. The script is slightly better than most similar thrillers, with a few dangerous hints of intriguing potential. (There are significant flaws, though, including an expected but unexplainable “resurrection” and some annoying mysogynism.) The directing has its moments, but the gratuitously pretentious first scene is typical of Sena’s lack of confidence in his material. Note the R-rating, which gives to the film a slightly harder edge that’s not unpleasant at all. I liked it, but then again I’m a sucker for techno-thrillers, big explosions and topless scenes. Your mileage may vary.

(Second viewing, On DVD, May 2002) I’m a sucker for techno-thrillers, naked women and action set-pieces, so frankly it’s no surprise if Swordfish holds up well a second time given that it contains all of these three elements. The script will never get confused with a masterpiece, the pacing lags a lot in the middle portion and there are enough nagging logical annoyances to prevent unconditional admiration, but Swordfish delivers the goods and features at least three memorable action scenes. Its premise isn’t completely silly, tired or boring. Hugh Jackman and John Travolta successfully compete in the charisma department. Not enough good things can be said about Halley Berry’s assets. But when you try to cut away all the rationalization, Swordfish is simply a fun film. The DVD isn’t particularly spectacular, but it manages to show that the producers knew what they were doing. Interesting making-of material, an extended discussion of how the ending was re-shaped and an adequately interesting director’s commentary complete the package. Not bad!

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