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Welcome back, Travolta

[Photo: Warner Bros.]
John Travolta, left, as Gabriel, Hugh Jackman as superhacker Stanley and Halle Berry as Ginger, voluptuous guide to the other side, bring action and ambiguity to Swordfish.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001

The actor, after a couple of also-ran movies, swims back confidently in the techno thriller Swordfish.

The big buzz about Swordfish, aside from the "controversy" about ex-supermodel Halle Berry's decision to bare her breasts in exchange for cash, is John Travolta's impressive return to form. Most recently seen in the abysmal Battlefield Earth and the subpar Lucky Numbers, the star is back on his game again as Gabriel, a dark angel of destruction in Swordfish.

It's a relatively engrossing techno thriller from director Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds) and producer Joel Silver (The Matrix) distinguished by stylish performances, expertly photographed chase sequences, mindblowing explosions, a sexually charged atmosphere and casually brutal, graphic violence perpetrated on baddies and innocents alike. (Note to parents who might be tempted to expose their young children to this cinematic fare: Leave the kids at home.)

Gabriel is the mystical, vaguely magical kingpin of an alternate cyberuniverse that might remind some of the terrain visited in The Matrix. He "exists in a world beyond our world," we're told, as the swaggering, ruddy-faced, mysterious manipulator gets out of his sleek TVR Tuscan and makes a grand entrance into a swanky after-hours nightspot, surrounded by a bevy of babes.

His evil superhero qualities notwithstanding, Gabriel must rely on a flesh-and-blood connection to achieve his goal of tapping into billions of government dollars in order to fund his war against international terrorists. He wreaks deadly havoc, see, in an effort to preserve the American way of life, a deadly campaign endorsed by a patriotic senator (Sam Shepard) and rooted in a covert agency created by J. Edgar Hoover. Or something like that.

Stanley (Hugh Jackman, Berry's co-star in X-Men) is Gabriel's ticket to freedom, a superhacker convicted of disabling an FBI computer program that conducted electronic surveillance on ordinary citizens. Now living in a rundown mobile home and legally restrained from even touching a computer keyboard, Stanley has plenty of motivation to break the law. He needs cash too, for a custody battle with his porn-actor former wife over their 10-year-old daughter, Holly (Camryn Grimes).

Ginger (Berry), Gabriel's partner, is the voluptuous guide to the other side. For her appearance at Stanley's place, she wears a form-fitting minidress and silver hoop earrings, and brings along a $100,000 sign-on bonus. Several flirtatious come-ons later, along with a reminder about his daughter's plight, the computer genius agrees to meet the boss. The application process is straightforward if unusual: Hack into the Department of Defense's computer system in 60 seconds or less, with a gun at your temple and a friendly blond providing sexual distraction.

Swordfish largely gets its kicks from observing Stanley's gradual descent into this brave new world. Ginger, seen in varying stages of undress, may or may not be a double agent. Their boss remains an enigma; all that is certain about him are his stone-cold bloodthirst and his undying sense of mission.

Sena caps his film with an exhilarating journey through Los Angeles, as FBI agent Roberts (Don Cheadle) and an assortment of cops pursue a bus carrying Gabriel, Jackman, Ginger, chief exterminator Marco (Vinnie Jones) and a variety of hostages, each wrapped in explosives.

"You know what the problem with Hollywood is?" Gabriel asks at the start of the film. "They make s--." Maybe so. But they sure make it look great.



Grade: B

Director: Dominic Sena

Cast: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard, Camryn Grimes

Screenplay: Skip Woods

Rating: R; violence, nudity, sexual situations, language

Running time: 99 min.

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