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Slashing, burning and gutting

Review: Pyro-happy 'Swordfish' not worth hooking


By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- Here are some things you probably know about "Swordfish": It features some wildly exciting action sequences. John Travolta is not wearing dreadlocks or platform boots. Yes, Halle Berry goes topless -- and so does Hugh Jackman. There's a nice twist at the end of the film.

And here are some things that you probably should know: "Swordfish" is idiotic. Travolta is sporting the same haircut he wore in "Pulp Fiction" (1994). He's also playing the same standard-issue bad guy he played in two films directed by John Woo, "Face/Off" (1997) and "Broken Arrow" (1996). And by the time this train wreck of a film is over, you don't care about the twist at the end.

Of course, you probably knew all that too.

"Swordfish" was directed by Dominic Sena, who began his career directing MTV music videos and flashy commercials for products such as Nike. This "slash and burn" background showed in his last film, "Gone In 60 Seconds" (2000), a equally bombastic action flick that starred Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie.

CNN's Paul Clinton reviews the movie 'Swordfish' (June 11)

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Swordfish John Travolta stars in 'Swordfish'

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For "Swordfish," as with "60 Seconds," Sena used cinematographer Paul Cameron and production designer, Jeff Mann. These guys certainly know their way around explosions, car chases, and spectacular special effects -- all of which take priority over the thin plot devised by screenwriter Skip Woods.

Strapped to a bomb

The movie begins with the film's climax. A huge hostage situation is unfolding. Innocent people in a bank lobby are strapped to bombs, cop cruisers are everywhere, helicopters whirl above, and Travolta's character -- obviously the bad guy -- is making demands to FBI Agent Roberts, played by Don Cheadle, whose talent is wasted in this film.

Then, abruptly, we're taken a few weeks back in time, where we meet Travolta's character in earnest.

Travolta plays Gabriel Shear, a megalomaniacal super spy with a very expensive vision: He'd like to take international law into his own hands by terrorizing terrorists around the world. That's not much of a stretch for him, since he also kills anyone in his way under the guise of his demented patriotism. He's also a man living with a permanent bad hair day, and a facial expression that suggests he's in desperate need of a laxative.

Berry plays Ginger, Shear's exotic and mysterious partner in crime -- or is she? In her career, Berry -- who looks stunning in "Swordfish" -- has often found her body more noticed than her acting ability. "Swordfish," despite its flaws, does give her a chance to act a wee bit -- and she grabs it.

The same can't be said for Jackman, Berry's co-star in "X-Men." He appears as Stanley Jobson, a champion computer hacker who's our unlikely hero. He's just been released from jail after being convicted of wreaking havoc upon one of the FBI's high-tech computer surveillance operations. Now he's a penniless bum living in a trailer and working a menial job.

The only thing Jobson lives for is his 10-year-old daughter, Holly (played by Camryn Grimes, currently starring as Cassie in "The Young and the Restless"). But Holly's been taken away by his drunken ex-wife who is now married to a porn director living in Los Angeles.

Hey, it could happen.

No accounting for anything

John Travolta
"Swordfish" stars a gun-toting John Travolta  

So Ginger is sent by Shear to recruit Jobson to hack into a special Drug Enforcement Agency bank account which holds billions of dollars in drug money -- money which was taken from dealers and used in sting operations given the code "Swordfish." The secret account has been dormant for years, just collecting interest -- a tidbit of information that's attracted Shear's attention. Now he can bankroll his grand, egomaniacal anti-terrorist plans. Of course, Jobson has no interest in the proposal until he's given an offer he can't refuse -- obtaining the custody of his daughter.

That's the setup. It may sound more interesting than it is, for this high-tech action/adventure flick is aimed squarely at anyone who prefers flash over substance. This film wants to be "The Matrix," but "Swordfish" lacks the solid punch offered by that special effects extravaganza (which was also produced by explosion-meister Joel Silver).

On the surface, this bang-'em-up, blow-'em-up road show is just mindless popcorn-chomping escapism. But don't look too closely. If you do, it becomes not just mindless, but ludicrous, preposterous and downright stupid. It's a know-nothing flick you already know everything about.

"Swordfish" opens nationwide on Friday, June 8, and is rated R.

• 'Swordfish' - official site

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