Swept Away

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What could they have been thinking? It’s a question that seems to come up more and more often these days as commercial filmmakers turn out seemingly endless miles of crap on celluloid. Throw in a star with a cult-like following and it doesn’t seem to matter what is happening on screen–enough of the public will buy tickets, regardless of the quality of the product. This is especially noticeable in the burgeoning crop of remakes–recycled movies from the past attesting to both the failure of imagination of corporate producers, as well as their search for a guaranteed return on their investment.

Lina Wertm�ller’s 1975 film, Swept Away, was a popular oddity, a strange mixture of politics and sex that worked, mostly due to the heat generated by its stars, Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini, he of the tired, smoldering eyes and smoky voice. Now along comes writer/director Guy Ritchie who has mounted a remake as a private full-employment program for his wife, Madonna. Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch), whose past successes have depended on the sounds of gangsters’ guns drowning out the dialogue, seems a bit at sea here (forgive me) making a romantic comedy in which the romance has all the chemistry of flat seltzer water and the comedy all the crispness of overcooked spaghetti.

The premise is straightforward. Amber (Madonna) is the very spoiled wife of a very wealthy man. They bring two other couples as their guests on a Mediterranean cruise on a hired yacht. Ritchie seeks mileage in the clothing, jewelry, caviar, and fine wines with which the rich indulge themselves. Then, too, there’s a drunken wife, evidence of cocaine use, and the vapid bimbo accompanying one of the male guests. They play high stakes poker and sunbathe topless on deck, waited on hand and foot by the crew and dishing out attitude.

Amber, especially, is rude and condescending to the crew, in particular to Giuseppe, an Italian fisherman said to be out of fishing work due to destruction of the fish by chemical pollution. She complains about the fish served on board, the not-fresh-enough coffee, the lack of a gym, and she puts most of her complaints into personal insults to Giuseppe, calling him by a confusion of names other than his own. A bit of the Wertm�ller politics is injected in remarks by Amber about the cold efficiency of the capitalist system; Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo) gets to mutter a bit of socialist response under his breath, but no one is going to take these token politics very seriously.

Through contrivances of plot, Amber and Giuseppe end up marooned on an uninhabited island together. Giuseppe’s survival skills give him the upper hand and roles are reversed. Instead of political terms, the relationship takes on a master/slave eroticism; Amber, the bitch goddess, succumbs readily and the two fall in love. When the script starts to lag seriously, Richie desperately throws in an irrelevant fantasy musical number. It’s a virtual confession of the sea of ineptitude displayed on screen.

Ultimately, of course, the couple are rescued and the question is whether love will survive. The ending was greeted at tonight’s screening with a loud, "Get outta here!" Why wasn’t that advice provided earlier on?

There’s nothing inherently wrong in the story’s premise. What is 100% missing here is a script of even the most elemental literacy, an inkling of genuine wit, and anything resembling acting. Madonna seems to have little trouble playing the nasty, spoiled harridan, but she plays it all on the same note. The fault is as much in the cliche-ridden writing, which establishes the character in terms of flat black and white only–it’s a cartoon and a humorless cartoon at that. When the turnaround comes, the softening is too quick and doesn’t ring true; it seems more a calculated variation on the opportunism that Amber had espoused in her rant on the boat.

Giannini has the looks, but none of the depth of his father surfaces here. There may be hope for him in a better script with a better director. The center of the film, the relationship between Giuseppe and Amber, never seems more than two actors playacting on screen. Swept Away isn’t funny and it isn’t romantic–it’s a romantic comedy in name only.

What could they have been thinking?

Arthur Lazere

San Francisco ,
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.