Bigger And Bigger 'Swordfish' To Fry

Swordfish" is a movie that believes in cutting to the chase. Anyone familiar with the work of action-movie producer Joel Silver ( "Die Hard," "The Matrix") can count on being zapped with the cinematic equivalent of electroshock every few minutes. His slick new demolition derby, directed by Dominic Sena, is so zap-happy it starts with a sequence that in any other movie would be the climax: a spectacularly destructive TNT explosion that sends bodies, cars and trucks flying through the air in gorgeously choreographed slow motion. Mayhem-wise, nothing that follows is remotely as spectacular, and that includes the sight of a helicopter zipping through high-rise downtown L.A. with an occupied bus dangling below.

It's a good thing the action is noisily distracting, because you don't want any down-time in which to ponder the plausibility, or the sense, of anything that is happening. This nutty paranoid thriller seems to be about a superrich master criminal (John Travolta) who enlists a brilliant, ex-con computer hacker (Hugh Jackman) to pull off an electronic heist of $9.5 billion in dirty government money. Since the penniless superhacker is a Good Guy, he initially wants nothing to do with Travolta's shady schemes. But, you see, he has this daughter he's forbidden to see by his sleazy ex-wife, and there's only one way he can get the money to hire a custody lawyer. What would Hollywood do without estranged daughters?

Two things earned the applause of the preview audience at "Swordfish": the explosions and the sight of Halle Berry's breasts, which make a notable if utterly gratuitous appearance midway through the story. She plays Travolta's ambiguous right-hand woman, who may not be who she appears to be.

Though Jackman has come aboard for an electronic swindle, the gang ends up robbing the bank with old-fashioned guns and hostages. The explanation for this, however, was too arcane for my benumbed brain, which had already blown a fuse in the scene in which the evil genius reveals his true, "patriotic" motivation for his bad behavior. It was at this point that the hokum level in Skip Woods's script reached tidal proportions. So is Travolta a hero or villain? I don't know, but he sure has a silly haircut.

This is Jackman's first starring role since his Hollywood debut in last summer's "X-Men," and he looks a lot better without his teenage-werewolf mane and early Clint Eastwood sideburns. Here he attacks the computer keyboard with the fierce concentration of Van Cliburn tearing into Tchaikovsky. It would be nice to see what he could do with a real human being.

SwordfishWarner Bros.
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