Movies today are unbelievable, unremarkable shit. And Hollywood knows it." These words of wisdom are spoken by John Travolta, who plays rogue spy Gabriel Shear in Swordfish, a putrid, pandering cyberthriller that indisputably proves Gabriel's point. In a Los Angeles coffee shop, Gabriel holds forth to FBI agent Roberts (Don Cheadle) and superhacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) about the sorry state of current cinema. Never mind that Gabriel is ass-deep in a robbery that could net him $9.5 billion from a DEA slush fund. Since Gabriel puts a hostage to death every few minutes, you listen when he says he hasn't given a big thumbs-up to a movie since Dog Day Afternoon in 1975. As he bloviates about what makes that Al Pacino bank-heist flick a classic, Swordfish unwinds its own plot in a film-length flashback that exhibits rank incompetence on every level. Director Dominic Sena stages stunts, shootouts and car chases with the same numbing intensity that made sitting through last summer's Sena idiocy, Gone in Sixty Seconds, such torture. The sleazy script by Skip Woods (Thursday) slimes the actors. Take the scene in which Gabriel allows Stanley sixty seconds to hack into a government computer, while a gun is held to his head and a bimbo gives him a slurpy blow job. For the record, this is the movie in which Halle Berry, as Gabriel's partner, Ginger, reportedly enhanced her $2 million salary with a bonus of $500,000 by agreeing to go topless. And people thought David Mamet was exaggerating about Hollywood's cost-per-boob accounting with Sarah Jessica Parker's starlet character in State and Main. Ha! By the time producer Joel Silver, who recently inflicted Exit Wounds on us (thanks for nothing!), brings on the money shot of a chopper hoisting a bus full of screaming hostages into the L.A. smog, you may be screaming yourself.
Swordfish is demonstrably shit, just like it says in the script. Yet the shameless contempt that the movie shows for its audience probably won't prevent the film from earning hefty grosses. Saturation advertising is stronger than bad reviews. Movie tickets cost more than ever (ten bucks in some venues), but we're increasingly willing to settle for less. Hollywood suits trust in formula, which in turn benefits from a studio's marketing muscle, which in turn attracts audiences that would rather see what's selling — even if they don't ultimately like it — than what's struggling. It's a vicious circle. And the crap just keeps on coming.