Swordfish (15)

Cheap, trashy, sordid: losers will love it

Nicholas Barber
Saturday 29 March 2014 05:25

Objecting to a film because it panders to adolescent male fantasies is like objecting to a Mars Bar because it's sugary and fattening. You might not approve, but that's what it's there for.

All the same, I can't recall many films as adolescent as Swordfish (15). John Travolta plays a millionaire bank robber whose designer suits never get creased, whether he's kissing the luscious Halle Berry or obliterating his adversaries' cars with a machine gun in each hand. "What you only fantasise," gasps a lackey, "he does." I don't suppose many adolescents fantasise about being quite so podgy, but otherwise he is everything an unhealthy growing boy would want to be.

The wish fulfilment doesn't stop there. In order to swipe a billion dollars from the government, Travolta employs the world's best computer hacker, who is not, as you might expect, a pasty 13-year-old, but the tall and muscular Hugh Jackman. And if this weren't dubious enough, the film's net-surfing audience is given the ultimate nerd wet dream: to prove his worth to Travolta, Jackman has to access Pentagon files in one minute – with the distraction of a gun to his head and a prostitute in his lap. Like, who says hacking is for losers now, dude?

Cheap? Sordid? Well, that's adolescent boys and middle-aged Hollywood executives for you, and if you're either of the above, you'll appreciate how efficiently Swordfish realises your daydreams. No, the film is only really offensive when it falls prey to another adolescent fantasy: it thinks it's edgier and smarter than it is.

Despite being every bit as trashy and sadistic as the director's previous movie, Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish pretends to be dealing with profound philosophical questions. In one scene, Travolta and Jackman discuss whether it's ethical to kill an innocent child in order to wipe out disease – fine for the school debating society, but a pathetic lunge for intellectual respectability here.

There's a feeble twist ending that's copied off The Usual Suspects, and there are numerous elements, starting with Travolta's Pulp Fiction haircut, that are copied off Tarantino. The adolescent boy is borrowing a grown-up's clothes. Basically, as long as Swordfish is comparing itself with brainless exploitation movies, it stands up fairly well. When it aspires to be compared with films that are truly clever, it leaves you, like the prostitute, with a nasty taste in your mouth.

Moving swiftly on, Dr Dolittle 2 (PG) offers some genial family fun, as Eddie Murphy talks to the animatronic animals again. Recess: School's Out (U) is a long episode of the kids' cartoon series. Don't bother unless your children (or you) are already a fan.


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