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Dustin Putman

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Beyond The Sea (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Kevin Spacey
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Caroline Aaron, William Ullrich, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Peter Cincotti, Michael Byrne, Matt Rippy, Gary Whelan, Curtis Victor
2004 – 116 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language and a scene of sensuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 13, 2004.

The third musical biopic of the year, "Beyond the Sea," writer-director Kevin Spacey's (2004's "The United States of Leland") love letter to late entertainer Bobby Darin, places dead-last among them. "De-Lovely," starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd in top form, stayed true to its name—it was the rare cinematic biography that rose above cliched storytelling and offered a fresh, staggering perspective on the life and loves of Cole Porter. The overrated "Ray" was not as successful, its fine turns by Jamie Foxx and Regina King unable to lift the story of Ray Charles above made-for-cable level. "Beyond the Sea" does not even deserve this dubious classification, its speckled, vague script and fluffy-soft edges reminiscent of a CBS Movie of the Week.

In adapting the personal and career highlights of Bobby Darin, whose name became synonymous with his biggest hits, "Mack the Knife," "Splish-Splash," "Dream Lover," and "Beyond the Sea," Kevin Spacey has taken a few too many liberties, not the least being his marriage to actress Sandra Dee. If the film is to be taken as fact, then viewers will walk out believing Bobby (Kevin Spacey) and Sandra (Kate Bosworth) stayed together until the end, his undying love for her withstanding their marital feuds and her alcoholism. In actuality, he divorced her in 1967, four years before his death, claiming he woke up one morning and didn't love her anymore. Furthermore, no mentions of anorexia or depression—two further ailments of Sandra's—are present. Creative license is not the problem; a skewering of actual events simply to paint a happier, feel-good tone is.

Although this may have been Kevin Spacey's pet project for several years, it also doesn't help that he is over a decade too old for the role. Bobby Darin, who had a congenital heart problem all his life, passed away following open-heart surgery at the age of 37. Most of the picture takes place during his 20's. The problem: Spacey is 45 and looks it, his age difference to the role stripping away a good portion of the story's plausibility. To Spacey's credit, he performs all of Bobby Darin's songs himself, sounding uncannily identical to the famed musician, and is adroit enough as a thespian that he manages to bring pathos to a part he is glaringly miscast in.

As Sandra Dee, Kate Bosworth (2004's "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!") is a luminous presence, her smile able to light up the screen without the aid of a projector bulb, but her character's participation sorely wanes as the second hour gets underway. Much time is spent early on setting up she and Bobby's whirlwind marriage and developing their relationship, which turns out to be a flaw when she is eventually pushed out of the frame and nearly forgotten about.

As Nina, Bobby's loving older sister, Caroline Aaron (2004's "Along Came Polly") gets one showstopping emotional moment where she finally tells him of a deep secret from their past. This scene, followed by a brief interlude scored to The Rolling Stones' "Let It Loose," shakes with a truth missing from the rest of the film. John Goodman (2001's "One Night at McCool's"), as loyal manager Stever Launer, and Bob Hoskins (2004's "Vanity Fair"), as Bobby's brother-in-law, Charlie, make forgettable supporting appearances.

In paying tribute to Bobby Darin, whom Kevin Spacey clearly holds an affinity to, "Beyond the Sea" is squandered by amateurish plot devices—the adult Bobby frequently talks to himself in child form (William Ullrich)—and overly showy directorial flourishes that are visually pleasing, but distract from finding the characters' souls. A scene in which Bobby and Sandra have a heated confrontation is over-the-top and rather goofy, rather than obtaining the dramatic heights it is pushing for. Spacey and screenwriting partner Lewis Colick (2004's "Ladder 49") have fashioned a biopic that is all shiny surface and no substance, washing over hard details in favor of a lot of stage performances that come off surprisingly flat. Furthermore, the sparse musical numbers, meant to be fantasy sequences, are ungraceful in their placement within the story. Bobby Darin may be worthy of having a film made about him, but "Beyond the Sea" doesn't do him the justice he deserves.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman