- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

Today's teens may not remember 1987's "Fatal Attraction," perhaps cinema's best advertisement against infidelity.
Aren't its leads, Glenn Close and Michael Douglas, like in their 50s or something?
We now have "Swimfan," a stalker film for the under-20 set that follows the "Fatal" playbook with a few genuine goose bumps inserted.
Credit featured stalker Erika Christensen, best know as Mr. Douglas' drug-addled daughter in 2000's "Traffic," for lifting "Swimfan" up from the potboiler muck. Eventually, all obsessed stalker films must spin out of control. Miss Christensen's performance keeps us involved until the inevitable bloodbath begins.
"Swimfan" chronicles the tense high school days of Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford), a recovering drug user who also is a championship-caliber swimmer. Scouts from Stanford University are coming to town to catch his next big meet, and his gruff coach (the reliable Dan Hedaya) advises him to live, breathe and sleep near the pool to prepare.
The script prefers Ben make time with his girlfriend, Amy (Shiri Appleby), drink with his buddies and flirt with the new girl in town, Madison.
That flirtation becomes the one-night stand, or swim. It's a credible seduction and one of many early scenes that set the film apart from other teen slasher films.
Mr. Douglas' indiscretions in "Fatal Attraction" cast his entire family in jeopardy. Here, the stakes are much lower, though Ben and Amy's relationship is treated with gooey-eyed reverence.
Modern technology gives "Swimfan" an edge over its predecessor.
Madison blankets Ben with text messages on his cell phone and buries his e-mail account with lurid photographs. Electronic stalking proves both authentic and unsettling and its use makes sense in the tech-savvy world of today's teens.
Still, an abundance of crude foreshadowing and not one, but two endings, makes "Swimfan" struggle for breath.
Once Madison is unleashed, the film's shallow sense of logic becomes a pool of inexplicable occurrences. Like every stock movie villain, Madison is everywhere at once, popping up with all the subtlety of a clumsy-footed linebacker. She is far too sloppy to have done this before, as the movie suggests, without bearing the weight of the law. A Houdini-esque escape late in the film is particularly galling.
Miss Christensen, her cherubic face slashed with red lipstick, generates some early sympathy for her plight. Watching her burn as Ben casts her aside in favor of Amy proves the actress's credible turn in "Traffic" was no aberration.
Undermining the film's attempts at depth is Mr. Bradford, whose implied benevolence makes swallowing his role's criminal past a chore. And we must, since it haunts him in ways that are crucial to the story.
It's a shame, since the young actor brings a genuine sincerity to the screen, even if he falls back too often on a tic-like smirk. He even slices through the water like a veteran swimmer, lending gravitas to several key pool sequences.
Australian director John Polson makes "Swimfan" more appealing than it might read on paper. Teen movie cliches are kept to a minimum, and Madison's transformation into a murderous harpie is not as jarring as the overplayed alternative soundtrack.
Too bad screenwriter Charles Bohl didn't bother creating a back story for Madison. Assembly-line thrillers such as "Swimfan" cannot slow the works down long enough for such formalities.
Mr. Polson does experiment with a fast-cutting technique in a few tense scenes, but the results are humorous, not murderous.
No pets are boiled in the militarily efficient "Swimfan," but not much else new is introduced to the stalker genre.


**
TITLE:
"Swimfan"
RATING:
PG-13 (simulated sex, violence, underage drinking and profanity)
CREDITS:
Directed by John Polson
RUNNING TIME:
85 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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