Swordfish (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Not yet available

"THE trouble with Hollywood is they make shit," proclaims John Travolta at the start of his latest film, Swordfish. And he should know. The actor has delivered his fair share of stinkers, including the diabolically bad Battlefield Earth last summer.

But the thing with Travolta is that he is equally capable of making the odd classic - witness turns in Pulp Fiction, Face Off and Primary Colours, to name but a few - and Swordfish can count to be among his better choices.

The film is a slick, fast moving but intelligent action thriller enlivened by charismatic turns from its lead players and boasting some excellent set pieces.

Set in a world that exists within our world, that is protected by passwords and the most advanced security systems, and which contains hidden secrets and billions of dollars, Swordfish examines the lengths to which one man will go in order to gain access to it - even if it means killing innocents in the process.

That man is Gabriel Shear (Travolta), a former spy with strong links to the government, who is intent on using these secret funds to launch a one-man crusade against terrorism against anyone who threatens America.
Backed by a team of ruthless mercenaries and the latest in high-tec weapons, Shear sends his beautiful partner, Ginger (Halle Berry), to recruit one of the world's top hackers (Hugh Jackman's Stanley Jobson) to assist him as he prepares to gain entry into this world by robbing the World Banc Investors Group in West Los Angeles.

Jobson reluctantly agrees to the challenge - spurred on by the possibility of being reunited with his daughter, whom he lost in a divorce - but has to contend with the dogged attentions of Don Cheadle's burnt out cop, agent Roberts, who realises he has stumbled onto something big and the chance to get even.

Directed by Dominic Sena, who helmed last year's vacuous Nicolas Cage actioner Gone In 60 Seconds, and produced by Joel Silver (of The Matrix fame), the movie succeeds largely because of the quality of its cast, but is also to be applauded for daring to be darker than most mainstream action flicks.

It may not ultimately be as clever as it thinks it is, and could certainly be accused of laziness, but for sheer bravado alone, it is well worth checking out even if it is likely to leave questions unanswered and contains as many plot holes as bullet holes. Towards the end, in particular, Sena requires the audience to play catch up and even fill in, as his fondness for set pieces finally gets the better of him.

But when it arrives, the action is suitably well staged, featuring a jaw-dropping explosion early on, a classic car chase in the middle, and an audacious heist getaway involving a bus that is suspended from a helicopter.

And holding it all together are the actors, a well chosen bunch who work well with Skip Woods' techno-charged script. Travolta, in particular, exudes the air of menace reserved for his most compulsively watchable villains, while Jackman makes a credibly flawed hero and Cheadle (of Out of Sight and Traffic fame) brings his trademark class. The film is also notable for being the first to feature Berry's exposed breasts (a fine pair!), and she oozes sex appeal, while also being the latest Vinnie Jones venture (although the less said about that, the better!).

It even dares to pick apart other heist movies, most notably Pacino's classic Dog Day Afternoon, accusing it of conforming to convention - a bold move that virtually dares the audience to disagree with it, before putting into play its own, far more controversial variation on the typical hostage negotiation.

But as risky as this may sound, it does serve to grab the attention and refuses to let go throughout. And there aren't too many action films around at the moment that you can genuinely say that about.