Playing a suave operator, Travolta appears with his swept-back Vincent Vega hairstyle, talking incessantly about how the endings of "Dog Day Afternoon" and other movies disappointed him. His major complaint: The bad guy never gets away with it. The speeches are reminiscent of "Pulp Fiction," which screenwriter Skip Woods seems to intentionally evoke to foster a loose conversational flavor, and it works.
But Woods and Director Dominic Sena ("Gone in 60 Seconds") haven't worked out a coherent thriller plot; a lot of the action (also incessant) doesn't have much shape. Unlike the stunning freeze-frame technique popularized by "The Matrix," Sena's action lacks personality and focus; it comes off like someone who blares a stereo while constantly switching channels.
Sena has never been able to create much suspense, a trend that continues with his latest movie's routine international computer espionage plot. In it, a CIA operative (Halle Berry) hires a world-class hacker (Hugh Jackman) to help her infiltrate Travolta's high-stakes heist plan to safe-crack into the government's old espionage accounts and lift $6 billion. The money had been used, at one time, to fund spy operations.
While Travolta smoothly portrays his malevolent character, Jackman appears uncomfortable in his role. Talking through his teeth, Jackman is still locked in his Wolverine mode from "X-Men." Berry, as wooden an actress as there is in Hollywood, is awful again in her CIA sexpot role.
Sena's direction, which leaned toward over-stylization in "60 Seconds," doesn't go far enough in "Swordfish." Some of the chase sequences through crowded Los Angeles streets are genuinely thrilling, but the other action is just too chaotic to be enjoyable. Starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. Directed by Dominic Sena. Written by Skip Woods. Produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan D. Krane. A Warner Bros. release. Action/Thriller. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Running time: 99 min