- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

I am not sure about the country at large, but this could be mistaken for National Sex Slave Weekend at the movies. Sex slavery at the office is showcased in "Secretary," sex slavery on campus in "The Rules of Attraction" and sex slavery while cruising the Mediterranean and stranded on a remote island in "Swept Away."

Somehow, the pretext remains a desperate and disreputable sell from one setting to the next.

Arguably the least flattering of the entries, certainly as a vehicle for its leading lady, "Swept Away" is a remake of the most overrated import of 1975. The perpetrator of the original was Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmuller, a humorist of obnoxious polemical inclinations.

One of her whimsies was to append parenthetical elements to her movie titles. For example: "Swept Away (By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August)." This affectation has been scuttled by English filmmaker Guy Ritchie while revamping the material for his spouse, Madonna, but he has not been able to update or reinvigorate a stale source whose vogue seemed a fluke even when it qualified as an art-house novelty item.

Madonna, a harrowing camera subject in the aftermath of cosmetic surgery that has turned her face into a craggy outcropping, is cast in the Mariangela Melato role of a foul-tempered rich woman. Now called Amber and perhaps better suited to Viper, she thrives on making things disagreeable during a holiday cruise with husband Tony (Bruce Greenwood) and two other couples, including Jeanne Tripplehorn in a trifling role as a boozer.

Amber finds it especially satisfying to taunt and insult a crewman named Giuseppe, familiarly Pepe, played by Adriano Giannini, the son of the original leading man of "Swept Away," Giancarlo Giannini.

This casting coup is perhaps the only selling point the movie has going for it among people who might vaguely remember the prototype and be curious about the father-son angle.

Amber addresses Pepe as Guido, Nature Boy and Pee-pee. He fantasizes dumping a dish of pasta on her head while waiting table one afternoon. She flirts with him contemptuously when they happen to bump into each other in a corridor and she can pretend to be silly with drink. The acrimonious build-up culminates in castaway intimacy. A dinghy with Amber and Pepe is lost at sea when its outboard motor conks out. A storm drives them within reach of a deserted island, where resourceful, proletarian Pepe becomes Lord and Master. Pampered, helpless Amber must grovel to be tolerated as his mate for the duration. She takes to this change of status so warmly that rescue comes as an unwelcome development.

Miss Wertmuller exaggerated the social and sexual hostility for starters and then exaggerated the transformation from knock-down, drag-out mutual dislike to overwhelming, sappy passion on an idyllic island of love. It was difficult to decide which form of exaggeration was more preposterous, but Miss Wertmuller was never a subtle humorist or matchmaker and never hesitated when bashing away from cliched positions of weakness.

In that respect, Mr. Ritchie seems a temperamental match. He still hasn't directed a single scene that has lacked a mercenary or crassly comedic emphasis. His specialty, however, has been sarcastic and outrageous slapstick within English gangster settings. Obliged to simulate shipboard conversation among guests and crew members and then an isolated romantic idyll between a social-cultural-generational mismatch, he appears to be flailing around without a life jacket.

The original roles were excruciating, but the co-stars had already evolved considerable comic rapport in earlier Wertmuller movies, so they seemed comfortable pretending to act hateful to each other. Madonna and Adriano Giannini have no movies in common, and it's difficult to imagine "Swept Away" creating a groundswell for further collaborations.

You do have the feeling that a career is a likely prospect for him. You're painfully aware that the door has closed on Madonna as a potential movie star. She simply looks too disconcerting now in her severely chiseled face and rawboned torso, with biceps that resemble strands of cable. Getting a fresh start as a middle-aged funny girl would require softer and more approachable contours than she evidently wants to display.

Mr. Ritchie inserts a fantasy nightclub sequence in his desperation to get away from the island, but since Madonna botches an overheated arrangement of the old Rosemary Clooney standard, "Come on-a My House," this gambit backfires on impact and leaves you wondering if she could put over any song within a movie framework.

The upside is that Madonna cannot be misled or mishandled any more creepily than she is in "Swept Away." The opportunity is there for somebody to sweet-talk her into gaining enough weight to look human again and then plotting to take the public by surprise in a genuinely disarming and cheerful comic comeback.


TITLE: "Swept Away"

RATING: R (Frequent profanity and systematic sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity and simulations of intercourse)

CREDITS: Directed by Guy Ritchie. Screenplay by Mr. Ritchie, based on the 1975 movie of the same title by Lina Wertmuller. Some dialogue in Italian with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes


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