'Swordfish' unlikely to hook moviegoers

Thursday, June 7, 2001

Swordfish is best served grilled, brushed with olive oil and seasoned with a buttery citrus sauce. Dished out as an explosive heist movie starring John Travolta, "Swordfish" goes belly up.

This movie doesn't sink anywhere near as low as last year's "Battlefield Earth," but at least that sci-fi bomb had some good unintentional laughs.

Travolta's latest seems to take itself seriously, with director Dominic Sena ("Gone in 60 Seconds") apparently convinced he was making a crisp, smart, unconventional thriller.

Nothing after the first 10 minutes of "Swordfish" is remotely fresh. From its promising start, the movie fades to standard-issue gunplay, car stunts, explosions and computer hacking.

The only things that break up that monotony are a whole lot of pseudo-philosophical yammering by Travolta and some gratuitous shots of co-star Halle Berry undressing or going topless.

Travolta plays Gabriel Shear, a wacko with goofy chin hair and a plan to steal $9.5 billion from a federal drug fund. Gabriel's not greedy; he's on a patriotic mission, so he says, to finance counter-strikes against terrorists.

He needs a crack computer hacker, so Gabriel sends his accomplice Ginger (Berry) to recruit Stanley (Hugh Jackman), an ex-con who's under court order to stay out of cyberspace because of a past assault on an FBI database.

Only Stanley's the proverbial hacker with a heart of gold: He mucked up the FBI files because the agency was spying on civilians, and all he wants now is a shot at reuniting with his young daughter.

Gabriel convinces Stanley that the wads of cash he'll make from the heist will set things right between him and his little girl. It's another sign that computer geeks should not have families; if you can believe Hollywood, they just can't grasp this reality thing.

Travolta seems perfectly comfortable in this cinematic mess, but "X-men" colleagues Jackman and Berry wear suspiciously pained expressions for much of the movie. And Don Cheadle also looks none too happy playing a federal agent on Gabriel's trail. Maybe he was thinking of better times playing a federal agent in "Traffic."