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"SWIMFAN"
(2002) (Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: A high school senior finds he can't shake off a fellow student who becomes increasingly obsessed with him after the two have a one-night stand.
PLOT:
Ben Cronin (JESSE BRADFORD) is a New Jersey high school student who's overcome a checkered past to have a loving girlfriend, Amy Miller (SHIRI APPLEBY), and a promising swimming career under the guidance of Mr. Simkins (DAN HEDAYA) who also coaches fellow swimmer Josh (CLAYNE CRAWFORD).

Although he seems to have everything going for him, Ben succumbs to the temptation of Madison Bell (ERIKA CHRISTENSEN), the new girl in school. The two have sex and agree that it was just a one-time thing, but Ben soon realizes that Madison isn't satisfied with their brief fling. The young woman quickly infiltrates and affects all aspects of Ben's life and then becomes increasingly upset with his refusal to be with her again.

As Ben prepares for the arrival of some college swim scouts who are interested in him, he must deal with the progressively deranged Madison and her various ploys to get him at any cost.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Most everyone wants other people to like them, and usually strive to make sure that happens, particularly when it comes to romance. Sometimes, however, some people take that too far and become so overbearing that they ultimately drive away those they seek.

Just ask Dan Gallagher. He had a weekend fling with Alex Forrest and then found out he couldn't get rid of her. That eventually led to her stalking him, infiltrating his life and becoming progressively psychotic in her increasing obsession with him.

If that sound familiar, it should because it's what occurred in "Fatal Attraction," director Adrian Lyne's cautionary tale of adultery. The 1987 thriller struck a nerve in married men, earned six Oscar nominations and must have impressed screenwriters Charles Bohl ("He's My Girl") & Phillip Schneider (making his debut) enough that they ripped off the basic plot for their first feature film, "Swimfan."

If Lynne's film was a warning for adults to control their libidos, this one's the teenage equivalent. Instead of Michael Douglas' lawyer character cheating on his wife (Anne Archer) with the increasingly psychotic harpy played by Glenn Close, we have Jesse Bradford's high school swimmer fooling around with the cello-playing wacko embodied by Erika Christensen rather than his girlfriend (Shiri Appleby).

Granted, it's not unusual for films to copy, steal or at least be inspired by previous efforts. Even so, this one's so similar it could have been called "Fatal Attraction, Jr." "Son of Fatal Attraction" or "Fatal Attraction Redux."

Thankfully, no bunnies get the lobster treatment, but the film follows enough of Lyne's picture that it offers few if any surprises. For a film of this genre, that's bad news since it relies on mounting tension to work and there's simply not much of that to be found, particularly from a standpoint of originality.

Part of the problem is that actor turned director John Polson (who's making his feature debut) doesn't succeed in injecting any new blood into the story that also bears a resemblance to the 1993 Alicia Silverstone thriller "The Crush" and the Bridget Fonda roommate from Hell film "Single White Female."

In all of them and others, the filmmakers try to build a mounting aura and atmosphere of dread and danger where we become increasingly worried about the protagonist. Lyne's film was oozing with such a foreboding climate and although we didn't like Douglas' character for what he did, we then felt for him (although some probably enjoyed seeing him get his comeuppance).

Unfortunately, little of that's present here as one can sense the formula at work. To make matters worse, Polson's only attempt at creating such a mood is through the score and musical cues (that strike the evil chords far too soon and obviously) and by using various jump cuts (where the same shot jumps around as if parts of it were cut out) in hopes of making things seem edgy and dangerous. Little of that works.

Lyne's film also benefited from the presence of and performances by his terrific trio in the lead roles. It's too early to tell whether Jesse Bradford ("Clockstoppers," "Bring it On"), Shiri Appleby ("A Time for Dancing," TV's "Roswell") or Erika Christensen ("Traffic," "The Banger Sisters") will ever reach the level of that older generation, but I can tell you that they won't be receiving any award nominations for their work here.

As the swimmer with the checkered past, Bradford is decent in the role, but essentially brings nothing to a poorly written role, while Appleby is okay but also suffers from embodying a weakly written character. As I've said countless times before, a film such as this is only as good as the villain as well as the protagonist then dealing with them.

Despite nailing the appropriate glower or off in another world/psychotic blank stare, Christensen - who's making a name and reputation for herself playing less than glamorous roles - can't do much with the one-note character. Dan Hedaya ("Hurricane," "Clueless") shows up in a small supporting role, but likewise is limited in what he can do.

Beyond the re-treaded material, lack of enough suspense and insubstantial characters, the film's biggest problem is that it telegraphs most of its eventual revelations and "shocks" far too prominently when it's not otherwise delivering various developments and coincidences that are unnecessarily and completely contrived, convenient and/or unbelievable.

The result is that nothing comes as a surprise, and viewers will be pondering how certain things managed to occur -especially involving the villain's apparent super-human strength --rather than being caught up in what could have been a far more suspenseful and intriguing story.

Fatal Attraction Lite at best, the film might engage the na´ve or those with low thresholds for suspense, but most everyone else will see where the film is headed - in terms of plot direction, quality and a ludicrous finale - and won't really care. "Swimfan" rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed September 5, 2002 / Posted September 6, 2002


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