The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Swordfish’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Swordfish.”

The info:

The Movie: “Swordfish”

Starring: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry

Director: Dominic Sena

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A covert counter-terrorist unit called Black Cell, led by Gabriel Shear, wants the money to help finance their war against international terrorism but it’s all locked away. Gabriel brings in convicted hacker Stanley Jobson to help him.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 26 percent

Our take:

Brown: You like comfort food? Us Joes certainly love comfort food.

And do you know what counts as comfort food on the JOE-DOWN? How about a heaping plate of John Travolta and bad, bad action movies.

So while we are still digesting turkey and mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving, it felt right to break out “Swordfish” at the end of the holiday weekend.

Last week, we witnessed a man’s homicidal descent into 1960s America in “Falling Down.” And this week, we witnessed the continuation of John Travolta’s desire to sport the worst wigs in cinema history.

And that’s far from the biggest problem in this movie.

I do remember seeing this movie in theaters while on a trip to visit relatives in California. It seemed all edgy because I was just about 15 and didn’t know better. And it had a buzz because future Academy Award winner Halle Berry infamously took $500,000 to go topless.

That link is a story, not the actual scene. Perverts.

That Halle Berry factoid is the only reason anyone remembers “Swordfish.” Because nothing else in this movie makes sense, let alone stays with you.

With that said, I’m going to stand atop my trailer and start hitting golf balls. Froemming, tell us about your experience with this movie while I tee up.

Froemming: I had never seen this movie before. It came out when I was 19 or 20, and a buddy asked me if I wanted to see it. His selling point: Halle Berry’s bare breasts. I declined because I hit the age where that was not really a good reason to sit through an hour-and-a-half of stupid.

And now, here I am almost two decades later watching a movie I was pretty proud of myself for skipping out on.

(REDACTED) you, Brown.


Froemming: So, was it worth it to break 20-year-old me’s resolve to not watch Travolta in what I believe is his dumbest wig yet?

No. No it was not.

This movie suffers like any movie about hacking, such as “Hackers,” in that technology evolves so fast that these movies are just ridiculous by the time they come out. It also suffers as being the weirdest “X-Men” movie I have ever seen, since neither Wolverine or Storm use their mutant powers in this whole damn film.

Look, I am going to dump my doppelganger’s dead body in my wine cellar. Brown, why don’t you kick this off.

Brown: The literal first line of “Swordfish”: “You know the thing about Hollywood? They make (REDACTED.”
And if there isn’t a better way to describe what you’re about to watch, I don’t know what to tell you.

This movie is such a weird opening. It’s this tense sit-down with John Travolta, Hugh Jackman and Don Cheadle, all looking like they’d rather be somewhere else as Travolta’s character, Gabriel Shear, is ripping off the beginning of “Reservoir Dogs.” But instead of talking about Madonna’s “Like A Virgin,” Gabriel is going on about the movie “Dog Day Afternoon,” which makes me wish I was watching “Dog Day Afternoon” instead of this.

He’s talking about the ending to “Dog Day Afternoon” not being realistic but honestly, no one is paying attention because of how Gabriel looks.

Seriously! Look at Travolta in this (REDACTED)!


Froemming: He literally looks like a Goomba from “Super Mario Bros.” come to life!

Brown: You mention X-Men and it’s like he wanted his hair to look like Magneto’s helmet. And the flavor saver… my God.

Gabriel is the encapsulation of every bad antagonist in an action movie ever. I wish we could spend this entire review on him alone.

Froemming: This is the NINTH Travolta movie we have watched for this (we average three a year because, frankly, these are gold for us).

Brown: Travolta has been in over 60 movies. At this pace, we’ll have his career covered in 30 years.

Now I hope we’re dead by then.

Froemming: I have nothing else going on, so we can do it. I can’t wait for the “Look Who’s Talking” franchise!

And we have yet to see him not play a dick. Is he a jerk in real life and so they cast him in such roles? I dunno. Also, based on this evidence, has Travolta (with the exception of “Pulp Fiction”) ever made a good movie?

Anyway, so yeah, Travolta is talking about how movies suck and people do not like the bad guy winning and I felt like I was in a film studies class back at SCSU. There is a hostage scenario, Wolverine is there all right, but refuses to use his adamantium claws to defuse the situation. Don Cheadle looks like he wishes he were dead, the actor, not the character. And a hostage explodes because the bomb strapped to her goes outside the designated non-bomb-going-off area.

Brown: When we saw Gabriel holding the detonator, I thought the cops were thinking “HOLD YOUR FIRE! TRAVOLTA HAS AN E-METER!”

Froemming: Great, we just got a cease and desist letter from David Miscavige.

Brown: The thetans made me type that joke.

Froemming: We gotta review “Battlefield Earth” next year.

So the place blows up, we get some really bad CGI 360-degree camera work of said explosion, and we then hop back in time by four days!

Because not only did this film rip off “Reservoir Dogs” with the intro, it rips off “Pulp Fiction’s” show-the-ending-first approach to filmmaking.



Brown: This movie also rips off “The Matrix” a bunch of times with the camera shots and overabundance of techno. What can we expect from a director whose work up to this point was most of Janet Jackson’s music videos?

We get this scene where the world’s best hacker gets arrested in an airport and promptly gets assassinated by Gabriel’s men to show us how far-reaching his influence goes? I dunno, this hacker gives some cryptic phrases about how crazy powerful the guy is. It only matters because now, we need to find a new hacker.

Enter Stan Jobson (Jackman), a man who was definitely not pulled from an internet name generator. He’s a recently paroled Hacker who did time in Leavenworth and is spending his free time golfing on his trailer in nothing but a towel.

But that’s not the most upsetting thing about his new life. He has a stray onion, cut in half, just sitting in his fridge. What kind of sociopath does that? You want everything in your fridge to smell like onion? That’s just poor housekeeping.

Never fear: Halle Berry comes in with a short skirt and an offer Stan can’t refuse.

Froemming: Well, he does refuse. A bunch of times. He just got out of prison. Why the (REDACTED) would he want to risk going back there? Sure, he has quick healing powers and metal claws, but being the king of prison still isn’t as good as breathing fresh air.

Brown: Plus, Wolverine was Canadian. Wouldn’t he get deported? I imagine Canadian jail is an isolated, snowy hotel with no hockey on TV. Truly a living hell.

Froemming: We saw how Cheadle treated that European lawyer for the other hacker. This Federal Government plays by its own rules.

Now, Ginger (Berry) brings up Stan’s daughter, Holly, as reason for him to risk his freedom so he can be with her. And we see Stan call his ex (played by Drea de Matteo, so all I was thinking was “The Sopranos”) and we fins she is a lush who has shacked up with a porn producer and won’t let Stan see his child.

This was all I was thinking her ending would be like.

So, with a envelope with $100K to just meet with Gabriel, Ginger brings Stan to LA’s most cliched rave party to plan the future.

Brown: I remember Ginger dropping some line as they enter this club about how Stan should have worn a suit. … Why? You’re going into a dance club with terrible techno music. You know what I don’t want to wear in an environment full of overheated people reeking of BO and poor life choices? A suit. Hell, you know what I don’t want to wear in hot-ass LA? A suit.

Froemming: Look. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: Raves are for white people to take drugs and dance like assholes. There is nothing fun about them at all.

Brown: After this movie, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

So Stan and Gabriel meet, and Gabriel needs a highly-skilled hacker for a big job. As a test, Gabriel wants Stan to break into a Department of Defense site in 60 seconds (a job that Stan claims can only be done in 60 minutes). Gabriel doesn’t like that pressure, so he ups the pressure.

How does he do this? Why, Gabriel holds a gun to Stan’s head AND for good measure, has a woman perform fellatio on Stan.

… *sigh* I’m sure as a 15-year-old, I thought this scene was awesome because I was a hormone monster. Now, it’s just so (REDACTED) stupid. I’m struggling to find the proper words without putting my real-life career in jeopardy.

Froemming: Let’s let Taco from “The League” explain what happened here!

Brown: Also, there isn’t a chance that any actor on this set know any of this technobabble that was thrown around all willy-nilly, right? Like, at least “Hackers” had a little charm. This movie was a slog compared to that.

Froemming: Absolutely not. It felt like whomever wrote the script saw a bunch of internet-related words on a “Dateline” special and sprinkled them into the dialogue.

Now, Stan passes the test, and is brought into Gabriel’s computer room, where he is sold on the plan because Travolta’s computer has SEVEN monitors! We know the most important part of powerful computers is the amount of monitors they have.

Brown: Does it matter? I dunno. There’s some big hedonistic party going on at Gabriel’s and Stan becomes THAT guy who is on his computer while all the fun stuff is going on elsewhere.

Froemming: What’s wrong with being that guy?

Brown: We’re both that guy and I hate having a reminder of how lame we are on screen.

All this said, this is a stark reminder of why hacking movies don’t work: Because watching a dude at a computer monitor (let alone seven) is (REDACTED) lame!

Froemming, at this point, we should film us doing these reviews. I think viewers would be intrigued by the music you play at your desk and the two Irish coffees I’ve consumed while typing about “Swordfish.”

Froemming: I do have three monitors going at the moment, just to be using one for typing!

Brown: You’re no L33T hacker.

After this, Halle Berry shows her breasts in the most inconsequential way and makes me ask how with this and “Catwoman” on her resume that she won an Academy Award. I say that admitting that I never saw “Monster’s Ball.”


Froemming: Let Shirley in this clip explain such a phenomenon.

And yes, her boob scene felt so forced. I felt bad for everyone in this movie, except Travolta, because the Swamp of Garbage Movies is where the man thrives. But Berry, whom I really enjoy as an actress, deserved so much better than this movie.

So Stan goes to visit his daughter at school. He gives her a ride home (her mom is passed out drunk at the house). And then Cheadle and the FBI show up and we get a really pointless chase scene where, after he breaks a G-Man’s nose and cause thousands of dollars in property damage, they let Stan walk away with a business card.

This movie is so (REDACTED) stupid.

Brown: OK, so Stan’s ex has a restraining order on him and he’s not allowed to see his daughter. He picks her Blossom-looking ass at school and then starts this loud, destructive chase. I guess I’ve never been so day drunk that I’ve slept through car crashes and gunshots but lo and behold, here’s where we are in “Swordfish.”

Froemming: We came close to being this day drunk that one time we reviewed Guns N Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” in college.

Brown: I also got close when I got dumped and missed half of Wrestlemania XXXI thanks to some whiskey and sadness making me take an hour nap.

Froemming: We at the JOE-DOWN like to depress you sometimes with our personal traumas.

Brown: We’re human, Froemming. We’re surly. We nitpick everything. We watch and reference too much “Always Sunny.” But we are human and our readers deserve to know that.

Froemming: Stan returns from his adventures in playing real life “Grand Theft Auto” to find Ginger in a room with a wiretap strapped to her body while wearing her bra and panites, which sure, whatever. She says she is with the DEA, and now we have all sorts of government agencies on this one case.

We have skipped over a lot of this because, frankly, it is really stupid. FBI, DEA and a rogue senator all play a part in this word jumble of a plot.

But the senator I will mention because his death is hilarious. So this guy finds out the FBI have now got a line to Gabriel and wants to call this whole operation off. Gabriel refuses and the senator puts out a hit on him on the mean streets of LA, where apparently machine guns blast without interruption by the LAPD.

Cut to the senator fishing in what looks like the middle of nowhere, and a helicopter descends upon him and OH MY GOD Travolta is dressed like a (REDACTED) beatnik, beret and goatee and dressed in all black. I half expected him to recite “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg here before he gunned down the guy.

Now I want to hear Travolta do a live reading of “Howl.” “Oh, I’ve seen the best minds of mah generation destroyed by madness! Ah! Oh my God!”


Brown: I’d rather have Travolta sing songs written by the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem.

So, we should mention what Gabriel is.

Froemming: The Merc with a Mouth?

Brown: Honestly, anything in “Deadpool” makes more sense than the actual explanation.

So Gabriel leads a secret government group called Black Cell that performs retaliatory attacks  against terrorists that attack the USA.

… Where were you after 9/11, Gabriel? Seventeen years later and still in Afghanistan, George W. banner be damned.

Froemming: OK, his philosophy is he will retaliate against terrorists by destroying their country tenfold if they attack Americans or America. The flaw in this, as we saw after 9/11 is this: Terrorists don’t care if we kill innocent civilians on their side of the world. They are almost nomadic, and they use such attacks to recruit people whom are pissed off we bombed their house. Gabriel’s plan literally creates more terrorists than it eliminates.

Soapbox aside there, Gabriel’s plan is to use Stan’s hacking abilities to steal billions of dollars so he can finance his war to create ISIS.  

Brown: It’s my working InfoWars-style theory that Gabriel was responsible for 9/11 because he wanted MORE funding. Gabriel found a way to melt steel beams with jet fuel!

Froemming: So the plan is to get into a bank, hook into their internet and funnel the money to various offshore accounts Gabriel has. And for a stealthy crime like, say, hacking, Gabriel decides that is boring and to crash a bus and vehicles into the bank like he is the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

Have I said this movie is stupid? Because it is really stupid. We even skipped the hacking montage of Jackman sitting at a computer whooping at his successes because not even “Hearts on Fire” could make this montage entertaining.

Brown: The only bit of media that has made hacking interesting, in my opinion, is “Mr. Robot.”

Froemming: God, how is that gonna look in 10 years?

Brown: At one point, Gabriel starts a shootout in LA where I thought to myself that Travolta looked at this script and thought “So I was in ‘Face/Off.’ I bet I can be even more insane.” And he does this while looking like Donald Sterling, the racist former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

You would think a man using a machine gun to blow up multiple cars would set off the biggest manhunt in LA this side of “Heat.” Nope!

Froemming: When we see that he has stolen the identity of Gabriel by stealing the man’s whole look, I thought we might have stumbled upon a “Face/Off” sequel.

Brown: At the very least, the alternate universe of “Face/Off” where Caster Troy survives and never took off Sean Archer’s face. But this movie is incapable of handling that kind of plot. Somehow “Face/Off” is a smarter movie, which can not be said about any other movie that’s been made in the history of cinema.

Froemming: So now we are about to crash into the bank, and Stan wants off this ride. Gabriel has already paid him $24 million, which would be good enough for me, and Stan seems to think so too. He leaves after causing a scene and finds his ex-wife and her porn-producing new guy dead in their home, which sure. But his daughter is missing so he has to go back and finish the job so he can get the kid.

Now we are back at the start of this very stupid movie.


Brown: Going back to the beginning, I have to ask: How is Stan not dead after the bomb goes off? Gabriel puts these explosive vests on their hostages that have ball bearings in it, making every person like a claymore mine filled with shrapnel. So the girl blows up and everyone in the explosion radius becomes Swiss cheese. And Stan, who is not shielded from the blast, survives this?!

*Sigh* (REDACTED) you, movie.

Froemming: Dude, he is the Wolverine. He heals fast.

After this, Gabriel makes demands for a plane and has Stan finish the hacking job into multiple accounts. He does and gets his daughter. As they are walking out, the accounts suddenly go back to zero. For a hacker, Stan kinda sucks because he said this was supposed to take six hours.

The daughter escapes and now Gabriel is hopping mad. He wants the money back. And this time to make Stan work fast, HE LYNCHES THE ONLY BLACK MAIN CHARACTER IN THIS MOVIE! Seriously, they string up Ginger. Holy (REDACTED)! Where are Gabriel’s khaki pants, tiki torch and MAGA hat?

Brown: Between killing someone he supposedly loves and his flawed idea of committing high-scale evil for the greater good, Gabriel is Thanos. That’s the only explanation I have for this.

So Stan gets the money back to Gabriel and we’re now crammed into a bus to the airport. It’s here where I wish I picked “Speed” instead of this.

And then they put the bus in the air and I checked out because it may be the dumbest thing we’ve seen on the JOE-DOWN.

Froemming: Hold on, I need this.

Brown: Eventually, the bus lands on a rooftop and Gabriel and co. escape via helicopter. But because this may as well be a video game, Stan finds a stray rocket launcher and blows up the damn chopper.

Does the movie end here? Nope. We get… more stupidity!

Froemming: Nope. Because we saw the dead body of Gabriel in the wine cellar and sat through a dumb speech about misdirection, Stan — while looking over Gabriel’s dead body at the lab — has the dumbest “Usual Suspects” realization that Gabriel survived and got away.

And then we zoom into the future and find Logan and X-23 in the desert at a cafe eating while presumably on the run from mutant hunters.

We then see a foreign bank, and Ginger shows up to deposit the bank account that the billions went to so she and Gabriel — now looking like Fred Durst without his dumb hat — take a boat out to the ocean to bomb a terrorist.


Brown: Stan is an unfit father.

First, Stan just pulled his daughter from school to go live on the road in your gross onion-smelling trailer?

Also, that young girl needs counseling. Her mom and stepdad got murdered! She was held hostage by a gang of men with terrible early 2000s beards! Her dad is a felon!

Froemming, let’s go tend to our trauma and head to recommendations so we don’t become Holly.


Brown: So much nope. There is nothing redeeming here.

Froemming: Ooof. This was bad. So bad. I am mad at Brown for making me break my 20-year steak of avoiding this movie.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

December will be…

Video Game Month banner

And it will be all podcasts, because frankly, we Joes are pretty lazy and needed a month off.

Here is the first film though.

Shameless plug:

Froemming: Also, a shameless plug for my buddy Paul, who reads the weird news of the day each week. Sometimes, you’ll find me badgering him with “Speed 2: Cruise Control” questions in the middle of some political thought he is having in the moment. Check him out. It is called And Now Weird News With This Damn Guy!

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