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SWORDFISH

by: Michael Dequina

God bless Joel Silver. While a certain nameless compatriot of his in the blockbuster game has decided to make a misguided, PG-13 play for Oscar this summer, Silver is sticking to his guns, delivering a slam-bang, pretense-free, hard-R-rated action thriller. Swordfish is the name, and the game is the same: chases, gunplay, the whole nine. In short, all the mayhem that one expects from a Silver Pictures production--and ultimately as nondescript as that description implies.

Undoubtedly responsible for that routine quality is director Dominic Sena, who last summer helmed Jerry Bruckheimer (oops, I said his name) Actioner #366, a.k.a. Gone in Sixty Seconds; and writer Skip Woods. After all, the mediocre sum is made up of some distinguished parts--and no, I'm not just talking about those very healthy ones of co-star Halle Berry, who reportedly received a (well-spent) half-million-dollar bonus to go topless in the film's (quite understandably) most-talked-about scene. Berry, who plays fiery femme fatale Ginger, is but one of the talented actors that make up the top-notch core cast, which also includes John Travolta as the bad guy, evil secret government agent Gabriel Shear; Berry's X-Men teammate Hugh Jackman as the hero, ace computer hacker Stanley Jobson; and Don Cheadle as the token fed, FBI Agent Roberts.

One doesn't watch a Joel Silver production for the stars so much as the action sequences, and, as mentioned earlier, Swordfish delivers the goods in that respect. A massive explosion that takes the "bullet time" effect to a new level gets the film off to a spectacular start, and subsequent set pieces live up to this big bang of an open. These range from the fairly standard but slickly done (a central car chase/gunfight) to the truly original and ranging from a foot chase down a cliff to the big finale featuring an airlifted bus, do the adrenaline-pumping job.

For a film like Swordfish, the plot is merely connective tissue between the big blow-ups, and at first Woods seems to have done all that's required of him. Gabriel gets the sultry Ginger to entice formerly convicted hacker Stanley into helping them electronically tap into heavily protected government funds. Simple enough, but the script soon gets lost in convoluted, half-baked twists as well as unconvincing, half-hearted emotional content--namely Stanley's desire to be with his young daughter, whom he is forbidden to see. That this subplot, however ridiculous it is, is not laughable is a testament to Jackman's charisma and natural sincerity.

Swordfish practically invites criticism by beginning with Gabriel directly saying to the camera, "You know what the problem with Hollywood is? It makes shit." I wouldn't go so far as to call Swordfish shit, but it certainly is junk in a nice, glossy package, and doesn't pretend to be otherwise. While embracing and celebrating its lowest-common-denominator aspirations make Swordfish a refreshingly unpretentious and modestly diverting film, it doesn't make it a good one.

RATING: *** (Out of *****)

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