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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Swordfish (2001)



Reviews and Comments

Bad action movies are easy to spot. A primitive but effective heuristic is simply this: when cars and bullets and sparks go flying through the air, and heroes and villains leap and run and dangle and plummet and bleed, what are our eyes doing? Are they transfixed on the screen, or are they glazing over? In the former case, we care about the characters, and the action is plausible enough that we can believe it. In the latter, we are being beaten upon by a sound and light show.

Swordfish has its moments but leans toward the latter category. People roll down steep cliffs, dangle from a bus which is dangling from a helicopter, recoil in slow motion from explosions, and while the imagery is occasionally compelling, it's just too much. The movie has not earned our involvement in its characters or story.

Much of the movie is devoted to hacking into computers. Hacking, being one of the least cinematic of exploits, is rarely filmed successfully. Here, the coding of a virus is made more visual with graphic displays showing geometric shapes fitting together to complete the virus. The programmer, simultaneously observing six monitors at once (windows are for ninnies!), cycles between banging away at his keyboard for a dozen or so keystrokes and spinning around in his chair and shouting, "Yes!" as the project comes together.

I can forgive over-visual computing in a convincing story, but who cares about it? It has no identity. It's not about anything. It's not even good escapism. It seems to be constructed of carefully calculated proportions of posturing, explosions, sex, and unconvincing obligatory idealistic platitudes, without any regard for what the end result looks like.