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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Swept Away

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Here’s a movie that falls into the “what were they thinking?” category. It’s a remake of writer-director Lina Wertmuller’s darkly comic, over-the-top, 1975 polemic Swept Away ... by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August, this time written and directed by Guy Ritchie and starring his wife, Madonna.

Wertmuller had a brief period of fame as a cinematic provocateur and her Swept Away was typically scandalous, a film where the lower class gets to literally revenge-fuck the upper, anally for good measure, with a blind eye to the implied gender politics that were defiantly non-PC back when the phrase didn’t even exist yet. One could understand attempting a remake that might explore those implications — broaden Wertmuller’s thin satiric thrust, as it were — but what Ritchie has done is to neuter the story, taking out the rough bits and turning it into more straightforward romantic comedy where an annoying rich bitch, marooned on a desert island, finds true love in the uncouth arms of an average Joe.

Which is a bad idea, unless (maybe) it’s going to be splendidly acted and directed, which is far from the case here. Ritchie, with the exception of a few brief sequences, has abandoned the hyper-clever directorial approach which gave Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch an aggressive freshness which you could either ride along with or resist, and replaced it with a more sedate and anonymous style. As for Madonna, she can read lines, but she can’t inhabit a part, even a lightly comic one like this. And she looks terrible. At first one suspects that her hard and haggard, dried-out look, appropriate for a rich woman who spends too much time in the sun, is a set-up for a later, contrasting transformation, but the change never comes. And with her ropey, muscular arms and her enhanced boobs, she seems to have evolved from caricature to simulacrum, a bad package of artificiality.

As the loutish Lothario, Adriano Giannini (whose father Giannini played the same part in the original) forges ahead gamely and the film has an unexpectedly downbeat ending where Ritchie seems to finally wake up a bit, but really it’s just bad. Flat, paceless and bad.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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