It happens every year about this time. Having waited several months, we, the moviegoing public (a good proportion of us, anyway), get all psyched up for the big summer "event" movies. High concepts! Larger-than-life heroes! Great special effects! We go in, and more often than not many of us come out let down, trying to justify our disappointment by saying that perhaps our expectations were too high. Higher-brow folks wonder what we see in those big action movies anyway, since we're invariably disappointed.
But we weren't always disappointed. There was a time when action movies were pure cinematic adrenaline. One well-put-together action sequence simply would not cut it, and forget about going for a PG-13. Look what happened when Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay went from R-rated movies (Bad Boys, The Rock) to PG-13 (Armageddon and Armageddon: The Revenge, er, Pearl Harbor). Guys like us don't want "heart" in our action movies. We don't even always need plot. But we do need at least three great action sequences, gratuitous destruction, blood and ideally some female nudity to go along with it. And that's what Swordfish is all about.
Joe Lieberman and moms across America may have a coronary over this latest glorious orgy of destruction from producer Joel Silver, what with its gleeful sadism, borderline misogyny, wanton carnage and unending stream of dick jokes. This is not a movie for those folks. And by now you probably already know if it's not a movie for you. For the benefit of those who are still intrigued, here's how it breaks down:
The movie opens with John Travolta, looking like the sphinx, directly addressing the audience to announce that most movies are "shit." He then goes on to deride Dog Day Afternoon specifically for its "lack of realism." This is what's known as irony. Bush league irony, to be sure, but irony nonetheless, given that anyone bothered by a lack of realism shouldn't even be looking at the theater playing Swordfish (the film's title is practically irrelevant, referring to a bank account password), much less seated inside of it. Travolta's little speech is the movie's attempt to wink at us, and give the critics ammunition far too obvious for them to use. But once he's done, we behold his dastardliness, as he presides over a group of hostages with plastic explosives and containers filled with ball bearings tied to their necks, turning them into potentially the biggest grenades ever seen.
The best "bullet time" effect ever seen follows, one that The Matrix sequel will have a hard time topping (bullet time, for those who haven't seen the featurette on the Matrix video and DVD, is that effect wherein stuff freezes in midair as the camera swoops around it). One of the hostages explodes, and director Dominic Sena revels in showing us the consequences in super slo-mo. Some might call this sadistic. The rest of us are busy going, "Huh huh, cool!" It's just a movie, people.
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Cut to four days earlier (going back in time, incidentally, ensures that we'll see the bullet-time thing again once we catch up). We now turn to a mobile home in the middle of nowhere inhabited by Stanley Jobson (Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman), a fellow whacking golf balls who looks every bit the sensitive ex-con, though since his crime was computer hacking (specifically, disabling the FBI's e-mail snooping "Carnivore" program), we're left to wonder where he found time to get into such great physical condition. As per convention, along comes a femme fatale (Halle Berry) to lure him back into one last job. Dismissing her with a curt "You're fucking up my chi," Stanley goes inside to engage in a painfully expository phone call wherein we learn his motivation: a young daughter living with her obnoxious mom, a drunken porn star. Insufficient cash to hire a good lawyer. Enough said. Stanley reconsiders, and once you get past the notion that we're watching Storm seduce Wolverine, the action begins.
From here onward, the plot frequently becomes unnecessarily convoluted, but since it probably doesn't hold up under scrutiny anyway, it's best not to worry. So long as you know that Jackman's the good guy and Travolta the villain, the rest doesn't matter. Swordfish is the sort of movie in which a helicopter airlifts a bus from the freeway up to the top of a skyscraper just because Joel Silver or screenwriter Skip Woods (writer and director of the little-known Thomas Jane-Aaron Eckhart starrer Thursday) thinks it might look neat (it does). Travolta's dropped a few pounds, which still makes him heavier than most actors, but the sphinx look serves him well and may distract from the fact that he's essentially doing the same character as that dreadlocked alien he so memorably brought to life last year -- a greedy security chief who wants money and enlists patsies to help him get it. Sam Shepard and Don Cheadle have fun with their supporting roles, while soccer thug Vinnie Jones is wasted almost completely save for one obligatory line about shoving a missile launcher up someone's "arse."
And you've no doubt heard about Halle Berry's nude scene, which she denies being paid an extra half mil to do. Whether she did or she didn't, the scene's worth every penny it took to make it happen, and guarantees several million in DVD revenue so fans can hit freeze-frame over and over.
The final plot development is an unfortunate lift from two other movies, but by that point, who cares? This film is about needless smashing, shooting and exploding in THX surround-sound, which it fully delivers on, unlike Sena's previous Gone in 60 Seconds, which of course was a watered-down PG-13. And be forewarned: Swordfish is possibly the loudest movie you'll ever see. It won't hurt to bring along some earplugs.