If attitude and very cool explosions were enough to make a movie worthwhile, then this one would win an Oscar. But movies generally require something along the lines of characters and plot, and there this movie lets us down.
John Travolta plays a mysterious bad guy named Gabriel Shear who will do anything to get what he wants. In this case, he wants the greatest hacker in the world, Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), to help him steal a lot of money from a bank. We first see Gabriel talking about what’s wrong with Hollywood movies and describing his objections to “Dog Day Afternoon” (coincidentally the same movie Travolta quoted in “Saturday Night Fever”). It becomes apparent that this is not just some random conversation over drinks. We are in the middle of a very ugly hostage situation, far more menacing than the one in “Dog Day Afternoon.” He doesn’t just have the hostages strapped up in explosives. He has them strapped up in explosives and ball bearings, so that when one person explodes we will get to see the rain of spheres operating like a mini-minefield.
Then a flashback: Ginger (Halle Berry) finds Stanley working as a maintenance man at an oil rig, under probation that will send him to jail immediately if he touches a computer keyboard. She tells Stanley that her employer will pay $100,000 just to meet him, and Stanley, who wants to regain custody of his plucky daughter from his druggie porn star wife, accepts. They meet in the kind of nightclub/house of decadence that Hollywood types think that non-Hollywood types will think is cool. Gabriel gives Stanley a rather unusual test — 60 seconds to break into a Defense Department computer system while a gun is at his head and a woman is otherwise distracting him under the desk.
Many explosions and shoot-outs and car chases (plus a look at Halle Berry topless) later, we are back at the hostage scene, and ready for some very predictable twists and turns and a bus hanging from a helicopter before the unsurprising ending.
The dialogue is supposed to be hip and sardonic, but it is just third-rate Tarantino. When the Berry character says that her name is Ginger, the best they can do is have Stanley make a “Gilligan’s Island” joke. Generally speaking, when the characters in a movie laugh at a joke, the audience does not. The movie tries for a vibe that is cool, amoral, and ambiguous, but what it gets is a vibe that is manipulative and insincere. Really — they could not figure out a way to make us care about Stanley without making his daughter have a stepfather who makes porn movies and a mother who is too drugged out to pick her up from school on time? They throw in a little Jeremy Bentham-esque dialogue about the greatest good for the greatest number, but are we really supposed to be glad that national security is being carried out by a rogue cop who thinks he is above the rules? It’s like giving the codes to the atom bomb to Leona Helmsley.
Jackman and Berry do their best with criminally underwritten parts, but Travolta never makes us believe that his character has two dimensions, much less three. All that’s left are the explosions and chases which are well handled, but we care so little about the outcome that they barely matter.
Parents should know that this is a true R movie with very strong language, nudity, sexual references and situations (including using a woman like property and ordering her to service Stanley sexually in front of other people), and a lot of violence. Many people are killed and there is an extended close-up of a grisly corpse.
Families who see this movie should talk about the Bentham-esque conundrum posed by Gabriel. If you could wipe out cancer by killing one child, would you do it? Should Stanley have violated his parole and broken the law in order to get his daughter back? How is what he did when Ginger was being threatened make him different from Gabriel?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Face-Off” with Travolta and Nicolas Cage and “X-Men” with Jackman and Berry.