Check your brain at the door, The Matrix this is not.
Maybe the biggest movie “wink” to the audience in recent memory is the first few lines John Travolta utters in Swordfish, Dominic Sena’s new action thriller. Travolta is lamenting Hollywood tripe. The irony of course is that tripe is most likely what Sena is about to show us.
Sena was responsible for last summer’s Gone In 60 Seconds, of which I did not partake for two very good reasons: Jerry Bruckheimer and Nicolas Cage, thankfully neither of whom are involved in Swordfish. Instead, there are two better reasons to see Swordfish: Joel Silver, who produced The Matrix, and Hugh Jackman who was of course Wolverine in X-Men. Travolta can go either way on these actions flicks, and Halle Berry (Jackman’s costar from X-Men) is yet to really prove herself in a leading role. As a bonus, Don Cheadle also stars as good cop A.D. Roberts.
Swordfish bills itself as a techno-savvy hacker movie. But Hollywood proves it still doesn’t know what hackers are. Or if it does, it doesn’t like who they are and decides to repeatedly misrepresent them. And why not? What’s so glamorous about a 14-year old script kiddie? No, the hackers of Swordfish are anything but nerdy. Hugh Jackman plays Stanley Jobson, a rugged GQ hacker, the kind of guy who can crack into a government database while getting a Monica Lewinsky from a Hollywood rent-a-bimbo.
Stanley is hired by Gabriel Shear (Travolta), a mysterious government agent who needs to replace his former hacker pet, Axel Torvalds, the younger more evil brother of Linus. Gabriel plays political mind games with whoever will listen, claiming Vulcan ethos (the greater good at the sacrifice of the innocent few) justifies his wanton acts of violence and thievery. Among which include robbing a bank and strapping C-4 explosive and ball bearings to his hostages.
This sets up an excuse to use Matrix bullet time camera effects (spoofed in everything from Scary Movie to Shrek) to spectacular effect. From this dynamic opener, you get the impression that Sena was hard-pressed by Silver to one-up the Wachowski brothers’ cash cow.
Swordfish also ups the ante elsewhere. The guns are bigger: Gabriel keeps a SAW in the glove compartment of his TVR Tuscan. The helicopter scene is much bigger: this one simultaneously involves a bus and ejecting passengers. The explosions are bigger: SUVs, yachts, and cops are setting up us the bomb.
And of course the hacking is hoakier, evidenced of course by ASCII characters flowing across monitors at varying rates. We have The Matrix to thank for its now infamous vertical raining hex/kanji. Chances are, you have that screensaver too. Sena adds some weird 3D cubes that are supposed to represent cyphers or some damn thing. Who knows, who cares? The buzzwords fly around with a modicum of legitimacy.
Everything about Swordfish is masturbatory — the action, the guns, the women, Halle Berry’s topless scene. But that’s gratuity for you. Check your brain at the door, The Matrix this is not.