Magazine article The Spectator

Wow! What an Opening!

Magazine article The Spectator

Wow! What an Opening!

Article excerpt

The first, audacious line of Swordfish is: `You know what the problem with Hollywood is? They make shit.' John Travolta is doing the talking, looking like some hep cat in a Greenwich Village coffee house circa 1955. He even has the teensy-weensiest little beard tucked in the cleft of his chin, like Erroll Flynn's moustache parked in a bicycle rack. As illustration of his theme, he cites Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet's hostage caper from 1975. Wouldn't it have been better, he says, if Pacino had had the cojones to shoot a hostage every 20 minutes until he got his getaway plane?

The other guys sit there looking thoughtful, as Travolta, with the soft-spoken, boyish, smiley, goofy intensity that's become his post-Tarantino trademark, warms to his subject of disappointing movie endings. And then the conversation ends, and the camera pulls back, and we see that Travolta and his chums aren't film buffs yakking in an espresso bar but bank robbers enjoying a little quiet conversation in the middle of a spectacular heist cum hostage drama. Around them are the terrified employees and customers, each one wired with a remote-control bomb.

The Feds, not being privy to Travolta's dissertation on Hollywood, figure no one's wacko enough to start detonating bank clerks. Bad miscalculation. Travolta blows up a woman, and we follow the explosion in a lovely slo-mo freeze-frame 180-degree arc as the thousands of tiny bits of her launch a veritable Mexican wave of lacerated flesh and crumpling cars and shattering glass. And in the stillness that follows a caption pops up: `Four days earlier.'

Wow! What an opening!

Unfortunately, we then have to sit through the Rest Of The Film. You know what the problem with Hollywood is? Not only do they make shit but they do so so ruthlessly that even a line as ostensibly bold and disdainful as that turns out to be merely a post-modern, pre-emptive jest, an ironic acknowledgment of and pride in the shininess to come.

At one level, Swordfish has every ingredient the modern action thriller could wish for. It has: 1) John Travolta with a nutso haircut (Battlefield Earth Lite, for connoisseurs of the actor's impressive range of coiffures); 2) Halle Berry's bare left breast; 3) Halle Berry's bare right breast; 4) a municipal bus dangling from a helicopter over downtown Los Angeles; and 5) a computer hacker who's given 60 seconds to hack into the Pentagon's most top-secret secret computer while he's got a gun at his head and a gal at his zipper. …

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