With such negative pre-release buzz and a studio that has decided to unceremoniously dump it into less than 200 screens, how could anyone walk into a theater showing "Swept Away" and not expect a disaster? Despite be based on an acclaimed 1974 Italian film of the same name and directed by the respected Guy Ritchie (2000's "Snatch"), nearly any film starring Madonna (2000's "The Next Best Thing
") somehow has a curse placed upon it. She may still be one of the top recording artists, but Madonna will never be mistaken for a master thespian or a box-office draw.
The first half of "Swept Away" more or less lives up to its already notorious reputation. The drawn-out setup is maddeningly slow and uninteresting, with two lead protagonists who are about as shallow and despicable as they come. They are Amber Leighton (Madonna), a snooty rich bitch who has boarded a yacht with her husband (Bruce Greenwood) and friends, and Giuseppe Esposito (Adriano Giannini), a poor deckhand mocked by the vacationers. While out on a raft traveling to pick up fresh fish in the nearest town, the motor dies on Amber and Giuseppe. When a clumsy accident leaves them without even aquatic transportation, they become stranded on a deserted island. With no way of fending for herself, Amber becomes a literal slave to Giuseppe in exchange for nourishment.
With no one to impress or put down, Amber is stripped of all her stuck-up pretenses and falls madly in love with Giuseppe. The film immeasurably improves in this second half, to the point where it seems like it was taken over by a more accomplished filmmaker at the helm. As much as the viewer actively dislikes Amber and Giuseppe at the onset, their transformation and the love story that grows out of their situations are genuinely romantic, if not completely plausible.
Madonna is not nearly as bad as she often tends to be on film, perhaps because her character of Amber isn't far from her past persona. At any rate, her performance improves along with the film as it plays out, and she successfully radiates chemistry with Adriano Giannini, as male chauvinist Giuseppe. She even manages to carry out her dramatic moments with reasonable aplomb. Their characters are bores alone, without much of interest to ever say. When they play scenes together without dialogue, however, they simmer. A montage late in the picture scored to "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star, is more magical that could have ever been expected after suffering through the dreary first hour.
Had Guy Ritchie's screenplay have been actually good, he might have had another winner with "Swept Away." Unfortunately, the film is drastically uneven and the character's physically abusive actions more than a little outdated for present-day audiences. The sincere finale of undone actions and unspoken truths, meant to evoke tears from viewers along with the characters, is about as well-done as could be expected for a flawed piece of work like this that doesn't deserve the payoff it strives for. "Swept Away" is a mediocre melodrama, lugubrious in tone, but there are good things about it. More than expected. Not enough to recommend it.
©2002 by Dustin Putman