Gabriel Shear (John Travolta, Lucky Numbers), suited in a more flamboyantly expensive version of Regis Philbin’s darkly monochromatic “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” chic, holds court in an upscale café over a coffee beverage. Shear isn’t concerned with millions or even billions, at the moment. He wants to talk about movies, Sidney Lumet’s 1975 heist flick Dog Day Afternoon, in particular. Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman, X-Men) listens, edgy, sharpened by more than his triple espresso.

Though Shear acknowledges that Lumet’s film features one of Al Pacino’s greatest performances (he ranks it with the actor’s work in The Godfather and Scarface), he sees a shortcoming in it: It just didn’t go far enough, didn’t push the envelope. Pacino’s character should have killed hostages from the start, especially that pretty, young blond he rigged up as a literal bombshell.

Shear rises from the table and Stan follows — through a gantlet of SWAT officers whose sights are all on the two men, fingers on triggers, waiting for orders. Though Shear, frappuccino cool, walks through the valley of death, he fears no evil, for he holds the detonator that controls the fate of a score of bank employees he’s converted with C-4 explosive and ball bearings into living (for the moment) Claymore mines including his own pretty, young blond bombshell. As she makes a break through the bank’s door across the street, he proves he’s willing to push the envelope, to go all the way.

And so do screenwriter Skip Woods (Thursday) and director Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds). Woods’ plot is pure action (fresh, not frozen) with a dash of bittersweet melodrama and a twist or two as it rushes against the clock. People and things are not as they seem from the literally explosive beginning to the explosive sleight-of-hand ending. Sena cut his cinematic teeth on Nike TV commercials and it shows.

Whether the objects within his frame are Shear’s cutting-edge British sports car (a TVR), great balls of fire or Halle Berry’s Playboy Playmate breasts, Sena shoots them with a sexy commercial gloss that almost makes Stan’s computer hacking as hot as the strut of Berry’s siren in red, Shear’s apparent moll Ginger.

Sena whips us around and through the action, his camera scrambling and flying after it, in it, never letting it out of touch. At its best, Swordfish looks like the child of The Matrix and a John Woo Hong Kong opera of mass destruction. Though Sena, like that master choreographer of mayhem Woo, has vehicles blast into somersaults, slows time to savor the action or cranks it up to boost adrenaline, he lacks Woo’s human touch. Sena seems more focused on the violent dances of machines than of people. Regardless, his high-tension visuals tune Woods’ already tight plotline to a fever pitch.

The cast? Travolta and Jackman provide the male sex appeal. Travolta summons up his inner psycho dormant since Face/Off (1997). Jackman is poised to become Mel Gibson’s Aussie heir apparent.

Fishing for action? Catch Swordfish.

Click here to visit the official Swordfish Web site.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at letters@metrotimes.com.

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