Combustible Celluloid
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With: Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Written by: Guy Ritchie
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 89
Date: 10/08/2002

Swept Away (2002)

1 Star (out of 4)

Sleeping with the Fishes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Preview audiences are usually bundles of goodwill and joy, very appreciative at the prospect of seeing a movie in advance -- and for free, besides. I've heard preview audiences applaud at the conclusion of some of the most abominable garbage. So here's a clue as to the quality of Guy Ritichie's Swept Away. The preview audience, which was presumably comprised die-hard Madonna fans, laughed at Madonna's heartfelt emoting. Laughed! Indeed, Swept Away is a dead-dog turkey of a movie, and everyone knows it. It's not the first for Madonna, who also has the duds Shanghai Surprise (1986), Body of Evidence (1993) and The Next Best Thing (2000) lining the very bottom of her trash barrel.

A remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 Swept Away ... by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August, the new film boils Wertmuller's complex, antagonistic relationship down to the usual gutless fluff played out exactly the same way in Sweet Home Alabama and Serving Sara. In a normal romantic comedy, the two would-be lovers begin by hating each other and wind up falling in love when their circumstances unexpectedly change. But these two really hate each other. You can feel disgust dripping off the screen. Even the sea air smells stale and foul. Not to mention that "comedy" doesn't enter into this equation, unless you consider the unintentional laughter.

As Swept Away begins, a spoiled millionaire's wife named Amber (Madonna) boards a cruise ship that traverses the Mediterranean Sea between Greece and Italy. Bored, snippy and nasty, she spends her time picking on a crew member, a fisherman named Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini, the son of Giancarlo Giannini, who starred in the original film). We hate her within the film's first five minutes, and she lacks the skill or presence to regain any ground. Amber demands that Giuseppe take her on a dingy ride, and the motor conks out in the middle of nowhere. Even though Giuseppe makes his living as a fisherman, he didn't think to bring any oars (d'oh!). So the bickering couple drifts at sea, accidentally puncturing the raft with the flare gun (in a scene that, I suppose, was meant to be funny), until landing on a desert island. Once there, Giuseppe has the upper hand. He knows how to live off the land, while Amber complains that she can't find a washing machine (wouldn't she wear dry-clean only?). And Giuseppe, who once preached about a man holding onto his dignity, becomes a monster as awful as Amber. We wind up hating them both.

I kept fantasizing about an ending with two warped skeletons stabbing at each other on the deserted, rocky beach for all eternity. But no, the film cooks up an even more ludicrous ending, one that's so bad I won't even tell you what it is, just in case Swept Away goes on to Showgirls-like cult fame. To be frank, Madonna looks horrid here; her face is leathery and sour, and when she smiles it comes across as a grimace. Ritchie enhances this look by bleaching the film's colors, making her look pale and crimped. She seems well aware of her looks. She wears a giant baggy black sweater -- it might as well be a chador -- throughout long portions of the film (though she does appear nude, once, in a long shot). Ritchie tries to console her, though, with a line of dialogue: When Amber complains that she has to compete with younger girls, Giuseppe replies, "I don't want girls. I want a woman!" Ritchie even gives her a totally unnecessary musical number, though she lip-syncs somebody else's music.

I'm not much of a Madonna fan, though I admit I've tapped my toes to the occasional tune and enjoyed a couple of her movies, specifically Desperately Seeking Susan, Dick Tracy and Dangerous Game (though I suspect the latter two would have worked just fine without her). And I can't help thinking that her entire 20-year career has been specifically and precisely calculated with no room for passion or poetry. In the case of Swept Away, that translates as an ever so faint hint that she married a hot, young, up-and-coming indie director who could perhaps help her sagging movie career. But Ritiche so far has proven to be a one-trick pony. His first two films (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) are fun Tarantino-inspired capers, but they're essentially the same movie. When it comes to more lifelike endeavors, it appears he doesn't have the goods. It's just as well. Imagine the damage Madonna would have done to world cinema had she married a talent like Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Harmony Korine, Christopher Nolan or Neil LaBute. Madonna and Ritchie can have each other.

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