Operation: hacker thriller

Movie: Swordfish

Our Rating: 3.00

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

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 manipulator is seen making a grand entrance into a swanky after-hours spot, 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 money in order to fund his war against international terrorists. He wreaks 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 F.B.I. computer program that conducted surveillance on ordinary citizens. Stanley, now living just above the poverty level in a run-down trailer home and legally restrained from even touching a computer keyboard, has plenty of motivation to break the law: He needs cash to conduct a legal battle with his porn-actress former wife over the custody of their 10-year-old daughter.

"Swordfish" largely gets its kicks from observing Stanley's gradual descent into this brave new world. Ginger (Berry), seen in varying stages of undress, may or may not be a double agent. Their boss remains an enigma; the only sure things about him are his stone-cold bloodthirstiness and his undying sense of mission.

The film's highlight is an exhilarating journey through Los Angeles' streets, as F.B.I. agent Roberts (Don Cheadle) and an assortment of cops pursue a bus filled with 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 shit." Maybe so. But they sure make it look great.


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