. "Swordfish"

This film attempts to be daring. First, it raises the question of whether a truly evil killer can be pardoned on the basis that his vicious, unconscionable destruction of fellow criminals as well as the innocent is all for the greater good. In this case, his ultimate aim is to destroy terrorists worldwide outside the constraints of governments or constitutions. The movie's arguments in favor of this proposition are unconvincing -- the character and his actions are unredeemable.

The second daring aspect is how Director Dominic Sena ("Gone in Sixty Seconds", "Kalifornia") and writer Skip Woods open the film with an FBI interview of Gabriel Shear (John Travolta), the arch genius involved who would be comfortable as a James Bond villain. In this moment, under the harsh glare of a single light, he is as much interviewer as interviewee as he proposes a movie based on his exploits, envisioning himself as the obvious "hero". What we soon learn is that he is, at the moment, holding a bankful of hostages across the street and an armed grenade in his hand. No wonder he can walk through an armed swat team to the refuge of the bank where he has a multi-billion dollar heist in progress. Like said. Daring.

This is part of "Operation Swordfish", (would have been a better title for the film) and, after the explosion of a very powerful bomb around the neck of an escaping hostage, we flash back in time to explain how things brought us to this temporary impasse between society's saviour Shear and law-enforcement.

The key to Shear's access to the billions he seeks is breaking the encryption codes that protect it. Modern encryption, for those who would like to know more, is based on increasing layers of filters, or character masking. The more you pile on, the higher the number of bits per character (normal text characters are composed of 8 bits). The level of encryption Shear has to break through is 128, and only two hackers on earth are capable of getting through this level of complexity!

The tipoff to FBI agent A.D. Roberts (Don Cheadle) that something is afoot is that both men are observed arriving in L.A. within the same week. Of the two, Axel Torvald (Rudolf Martin) is detained at customs, taken to FBI HQ and, while there, is wiped out by Shear's men. Having been in Shear's employ, he has, in essence, been "fired".

Now, the super-confident Shear wants to hire the only remaining hacker and he sets his resourceful and gorgeous "assistant" Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry) after him. Her assignment is to use whatever wiles she needs to to enlist Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) into the operation. It comes down to enough money to hire attorneys to get his daughter Holly (Camryn Grimes) back into his custody. With $100,000 grand in his pocket and images of Berry's ravishing physical enticements in mind, he is soon facing his new boss in what will become a job with even greater payoffs. All he has to do is hack into the bank system on Shear's multi-monitored computer. If the graphics designed on these monitors to make the process intelligible to the lay audience is any indicator, the movie should be stunning and clever.

It is, to a point, and provides a good evening's entertainment if your standards aren't set too much above "action". The faint of heart need not apply. Travolta enjoys his role as the mastermind who is always a step or three ahead of his pursuers and who understands human sensitivity even as he performs the most insensitive, cruel acts to further his goals. Cheadle lends his patented brand of humor to the bumbling agent standard; Jackman is attractive and sympathetic as the computer genius with family problems; Berry is revealingly hot and stunning, satisfying (if not stupefying) the males who will comprise the audience for whom the film is targetted. They will also embrace the twists upon twists in the plot amidst all the debris and disintegration.

As Jobson's shrew of an ex-wife Melissa, Drea de Matteo, (Adriana of "The Sopranos") delivers a performance that is suitably hateful but less assured in the unfamiliar surroundings off her series' set. Be that as it may, it's interesting to see what she can do in another context but one senses an actress still working to get beyond the workshop level.

As for future roles, Travolta needs to do some kind, not-so-assured character after this and the lingering aftertaste of Terl in "Battlefield Earth." Something funny maybe, like Chili Palmer of "Get Shorty" (1995) could be a boost to his career. Just a suggestion, John. Love ya', John.

Estimated cost: $80,000,000. Projected U.S. Boxoffice: $68,000,000.

Rated D, for Daring.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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