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(2002) (Madonna, Adriano Giannini) (R)

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Comedy: A condescending and demanding socialite finds her life turned upside down when she ends up stuck on an abandoned island with a fisherman who can't stand her due to the way she's treated him.
Amber (MADONNA) and Anthony Leighton (BRUCE GREENWOOD) are a filthy rich couple who've chartered a boat, along with their friends Debi (ELIZABETH BANKS), Mike (DAVID THORNTON), Marina (JEANNE TRIPPLEHORN) and Todd (MICHAEL BEATTIE), from Greece to Italy.

All see the boat's crew as below them, but none more so than Amber whose demanding and condescending nature is driving fisherman Giuseppe (ADRIANO GIANNINI) crazy. The boat's captain tells him to grin and take it, but Giuseppe is beginning to near the end of his rope.

Things change when Amber orders that he ferry her to some nearby caves to meet her friends. He's reluctant to go due to the distance, strong tides and unpredictable weather, but she orders him to do so. Out in the middle of nowhere, their small dinghy's motor stops working and then the two inadvertently partially capsize it.

They eventually spot a remote and uninhabited island where she continues with her condescension toward him. The tables are eventually turned, however, when hunger sets in and she realizes he's going to be the only source of food for her. Noting this, Giuseppe begins ordering her around like a slave, and she angrily and reluctantly goes along with his demands.

Yet, as time passes and she begins to change her demeanor to that of submissiveness, a bond begins to form between them. From that point on, they must decide how they feel about each other and what to do should they get a chance to get off their new island home.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
Personality tests and "what if" trivia games over drinks often pose the question of what movie - if you could only choose one - you'd most like to have with you if you were stranded on a deserted island. The choice is obviously personal and there are tens of thousands of films from which to pick. That said, hopefully only a certain high-profile celebrity couple or cinematic masochists would choose the second coming of "Swept Away."

That's because this revamped version of Lina Wertmuller's 1975 film of the same name is bad from most any angle or aspect, and features what could be one of the worst performances of the year. That would be from pop star turned actress Madonna who's one half of that couple. Her significant other, Guy Ritchie ("Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"), is the film's writer and director, and both of them should be banished for an eternity on some remote, water encircled land mass for releasing this mess on the public.

Purportedly a comedy, the film pretty much follows the basic plot of the original film where a rich and snooty snob gets her comeuppance when stuck on such an island with the working class stiff she had just been tormenting. He then turns the tables and shows her who's really the master of their universe and then finds her impossibly alluring, but only after she completely submits to him in every way imaginable.

If that sounds rather backward in today's world of equality, feminism and political correctness, it most certainly is, particularly when the man takes to beating, belittling and nearly raping the woman. While the symbolism of breaking the woman's spirit like that of a wild stallion might have flown back in 1970s era Europe, it's just a tad more than problematic here and now.

That's especially true considering that it's played for an uneasy and unsuccessful combination of drama and intended laughs. The problem is that such material - like most of the film - isn't remotely funny, and doesn't go far enough to make it seem like satire, or a fable or cautionary tale.

If one's going to push the politically incorrect envelope, they had better rip it open with enough vigor to make it intriguing, but Ritchie doesn't appear confident in how to proceed with the material. The result is a picture with some ugly scenes that are likely to turn off viewers and make others question both the filmmaker and characters' motivation.

A bigger problem is that the film's tone and pacing are uneven, erratic and essentially all over the place. Early parts are presumably supposed to come off as an old-fashioned screwball comedy (notwithstanding the profanity) that then segues into the deserted isle bit and then the love story angle. Unfortunately, none of them work, and it's somewhat shocking in how bad all three fail.

Pulling off the first is the most difficult - in front of and behind the lens - and neither side here make it work. Instead of intelligent or sharply honed wit and performances, we get irritating and annoying material, particularly from Madonna ("The Next Best Thing," "Evita"). I'm not sure what the initial goal was regarding the character or her performance, but neither work. Instead, they only serve to be one-hundred percent grating.

The second part of the story focuses on the bit featuring the characters stuck on the island and then dealing with that. Beyond having seen that far too many times - whether it's Hanks in "Cast Away," Ford and Heche in "Six Days, Seven Nights" or even the gang on "Gilligan's Island - that segment brings nothing new beyond the unappealing, chauvinism of what follows.

That then leaves the love story that brings up the rear and hopes to move viewers. Oh, it will do that all right, but only to exit the theater or turn off the TV. The woman's sudden reversal of attitude is completely unconvincing as is her sudden love for the sultry fisherman played by Adriano Giannini ("Alla rivoluzione sulla due cavalli").

Unlike the somewhat similar dominant/passive pairing in "Secretary," this one doesn't work in concept or execution. The result is that we don't care about the characters and thus aren't moved by what's supposed to be the teary and heartbreaking finale. I was just happy that the film was over and imagine that I won't be alone in that sentiment.

Although Madonna crashes and burns in such a spectacular fashion that it's hard to see anyone else due to the fiery and smoky wreckage, Giannini plays opposite her and inhabits the role played by his father, Giancarlo Giannini, in the original film. He's far better in his character than she is in hers, and does have the rugged, foreign charisma thing going for him.

Yet, once he switches on the domination light, all of his appeal is flushed down the toilet just like the rest of what's offered. Bruce Greenwood ("Thirteen Days," "Rules of Engagement") and Jeanne Tripplehorn ("Timecode," "Mickey Blue Eyes"), along with a handful of other lesser known performers, appear in the first half with them, but are utterly unremarkable.

While the film had the potential of exploring the old-fashioned concept of dominant men and submissive women as clashing with today's age and belief in equality and political correctness (not to mention looking at class differences), it fails in just about every way imaginable.

Beyond a brief fantasy sequence where the Material Girl lip-synchs to Della Reese's "Come On-a My House" in a big band sequence (where she oddly but quite strongly resembles Courtney Love), the film is far too predictable, irritating and never engages the viewer. Probably an accurately descriptive title of what viewers will wish upon the film, "Swept Away" rates as just a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed October 8, 2002 / Posted October 11, 2002

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