Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Swept Away (2002)

The good news is, this movie isn’t truly horrible. The bad news is, there seems to be no reason for it to exist – nobody involved in it really seems to know what they’re doing. I'm guessing there was a lot of awkward silence around the craft services table, a lot of furtive glances and avoidance of eye contact.

The story structure closely follows in the steps of the original 1974 film directed by Lina Wertmüller and starring Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato: a bitchy blonde socialite and a robust, earthy yacht servant bicker, then get stranded on a desert island and fight until they fall in love. To be honest, I don’t think Wertmüller’s original film is that great, being a little overly-schematic in a very European, 1970s kind of way: he represents the working classes, she’s the bourgeoisie, now watch them rassle. Plus, the movie takes an odd turn as the relationship devolves into something that looks more like caveman-style sadomasochism than anything else, with Giannini smacking Melato around and thoroughly dominating her, both physically and emotionally, until they get rescued. Point being, it doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy relationship. But the movie is at least interesting in a sardonic, satirical kind of way, and the two leads (especially Giannini) are fully committed to rolling around in the sand.

The Guy Ritchie version, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any idea what it’s trying to be. There are some crude stabs at the social satire of the original movie, seemingly still present only as a result of inertia (I say this because Ritchie seems to have just copied and pasted big chunks of dialogue out of Wertmüller’s script, including awkwardly anachronistic stuff about Communists). Every so often there’ll be a moment of comedy, but this usually gets spoiled by Madonna’s incredibly cranky, unpleasant performance (and has any husband ever directed his wife to be more unlikeable on camera than in this movie?). I suppose maybe the movie wanted to just be a genuine heartfelt, but then that falls flat thanks to the total lack of chemistry between Madonna and Adriano Giannini (yes, Giancarlo’s son, who has better abs but not as much movie-star charisma than his dad). I will give credit to two collaborators who do solid work here: Bruce Greenwood brings genuine emotional authenticity to his role as Madonna’s husband; and Alex Barber’s cinematography is appropriately golden-hued and ravishing.

But in general, while bad movies can happen for all kinds of reasons, from the ego-driven (The Postman) to the purely crass (Saw VI) to the earnestly incompetent (Plan 9 from Outer Space), Ritchie’s Swept Away seems to exist almost by mistake, a film that nobody involved wanted to be making and nobody in the audience wanted to see, which is increasingly rare in today’s world. This movie is like a two-headed calf: created by mistake, doomed to continue painfully loping around until it finally, thankfully comes to its inevitable end. It didn’t hurt anybody while it was alive, but it’s better for all involved that it be buried in the backyard and forgotten about.


(This is my contribution to the White Elephant Blogathon, thanks to Silly Hats Only.)