Swept Away

on October 11, 2002 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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Its an old story: romance between a beauty and a beast. Over the centuries, creative minds have had fun and enlightened with variations on that theme. More than 25 years ago, Lina Wertmuller spun off her own riff, particular to its time, peppered with a strong dose of social and sexual politics. The results were uneven, unsettling, but oddly engaging through its heavy handedness. A remake of Wertmuller's "Swept Away (...By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August)" by British director Guy Ritchie offers very little that is new or remotely insightful. Placing his wife, super-icon Madonna, at the forefront in an attempt to cash in on laughs from a latter-day prospective on power and sexuality, Ritchie is unable to breathe life into the old fable. The results are shallow and inconsequential, despite some pretty scenery.

Madonna is Amber Leighton, a bored uber-wealthy socialite who takes out her bitterness over her marriage to a lackluster pharmaceutical giant (Bruce Greenwood) by lashing out at the little people. On a cruise between Greece and Italy with hubby and two other couples, Amber blasts everyone in sight with her icy scorn, but heaps special abuse on scruffy sailor/waiter and all-around servant, Giueseppe (Adriano Giannini, whose father, Giancarlo Giannini, starred in the original film). Like any good fairy tale, actions have consequences, and Amber's unreasonable demands result in her being stuck on an island alone with Giueseppe, whose rage and frustration turns him into a cave-man supreme.

The supposed kicker in this frothy fantasy is that Amber takes to being smacked around and assaulted and so falls in love with her Beast. Or does she? Ritchie's pedestrian script does nothing to suggest depth to the characters, so it's hard to tell. Just when the story appears to be headed toward a moment of revelation, it is, well, swept away. Amber remains inscrutable, except for a passing suggestion that she might not be all that she appears. By contrast, despite Giueseppe's insistence that he is a man, his simplistic political diatribe (perhaps included only as a tribute to Wertmuller's pontificating) and shaggy delight at returning to a primitive state smacks of frat boyishness that betrays the ugly sexism behind it.

Ritchie's limitations as a director only heighten Madonna's well-known acting restrictions. In the first half of the film, she is completely unable to project the haughty disdain required (one shivers simply recalling a single frozen glance from the likes of Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck), coming across instead as a petulant brat. Unable to break out of her enormous iconic presence or put it to use to suggest Amber as a type-A frustrated woman of potential-and fragility-Madonna merely comes across as stiff and wooden. One remains mesmerized by the star's chiseled body, but rarely moved. She fares better in the second half, but the slender story is unable to support her.

Ritchie and Madonna are at their best in montage bits requiring little acting and no dialogue (can anyone say "video"?), including a foolish but mildly amusing fantasy sequence in which Madonna sashays about in a sparkling yellow gown, lip synching Rosemary Clooney's "Come-On a My House." But it's far too little to hang a film on; Beauty and even the Beast deserve better. Starring Madonna and Adriano Giannini. Directed and written by Guy Ritchie. Produced by Matthew Vaughn. A Screen Gems release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity. Running time: 108 min

Tags: Starring Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Directed, written by Guy Ritchie, Produced by Matthew Vaughn, Screen Gems, Romantic comedy
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