"Swimfan" is the kind of thriller that requires, for the plot to move forward, a complete absence of common sense on the part of the hero -- in this case a high school swim team star (Jesse Bradford) with a sultry, psycho, jailbait stalker (Erika Christensen).
No matter what crazy thing the deranged girl does to him -- leave her panties in his car, email him 81 times in a day, spike his urine sample with steroids, frame him for murder -- Bradford never tells a single person what's really going on because if anyone was watching his back, there would be no movie.
Which isn't to say "Swimfan" doesn't have its guilty pleasures. OK, one guilty pleasure. Christensen -- Michael Douglas's smack-addicted daughter in "Traffic," a beautiful girl with the heart-shaped face and sly, portentous eyes -- is such a fun, wicked, spiteful villainess that she keeps the flick afloat all by herself.
No help comes from the very vanilla Bradford ("Clockstoppers") -- a snarl-smiling product of the Keanu Reeves/Freddie Prinze, Jr. school of single-expression acting. No help comes from Shiri Appleby (TV's "Roswell"), who lacks any discernable personality as Bradford's blandly ideal girlfriend, to whom he's so devoted that he has sex with Christensen within days of her transferring to their school, thus setting off the girl's delusional obsession that quickly turns dangerous.
Christensen dominates the movie from the moment she begs Bradford to "Tell me you love me!" when they're going at it in the campus swimming pool after hours. "You don't have to mean it," she whispers so ominously that you know she means the exact opposite of what she says.
But even Christensen's character has some problems (besides the obvious mental ones), not the least of which is that costume designer Arjun Bhasin has, for some reason, dressed the 17-year-old like an "Ally McBeal" lawyer.
First-time director John Polson has an eye for richly shadowy visuals, but the man went overboard with revolving cameras and gratuitous repetition of multiple takes in several tense scenes. He must have seen similar effects used to drive home emotions in films by, say, a Steven Soderbergh or a Lars Von Trier. But in Polson's inexperienced, B-movie hands the editing of these multiple takes is so haphazard that it proves a major distraction in what should be some of "Swimfan's" most jarring moments.
Of course, stuck with a hero that has no wits, "Swimfan" has to go to implausible extremes to find a climax, and in its final scenes even Christensen can't deliver a convincing performance when called on to take her character to the lunatic fringe.
"Swimfan" might be a good rental if you want to throw popcorn at the screen with your friends sometime after it's out on video. But it's certainly not worth the price of a movie ticket.
Run time: 85 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th September 2002
Box Office USA: $28.3M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 14%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 78
IMDB: 4.9 / 10
Director: John Polson
Starring: Jesse Bradford as Ben Cronin, Erika Christensen as Madison Bell, Shiri Appleby as Amy Miller, Kate Burton as Carla Cronin, Jason Ritter as Randy, Clayne Crawford as Josh, Dan Hedaya as Coach Simkins, Nick Sandow as Detective John Zabel, Phyllis Somerville as Aunt Gretchen Christopher, James DeBello as Christopher Dante, Patricia Rae as Jake's Nurse
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