After beginning his career with two frenetic crime films (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch), filmmaker Guy Ritchie has changed his tone in order to make a vanity project. But it's not his vanity at stake, it's that of his wife, super-hyphenate Madonna, in this fairly faithful remake of the lusty, free-wheelin' 1974 Italian film Swept Away. That original, directed by Lina Wertmuller, starred Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. This update, a film that Ritchie proves does not need to exist, stars Adriano Giannini (in his father's original role), Madonna, and Madonna's sinewy body.
Sure, hubby puts those super-tight abs and intimidating biceps front-and-center. But he's also forced to put Madonna's acting ability up there as well, and the awful truth is that Madonna is an average actress at best. Being as naturally theatrical as she is (and that's a compliment), she excels at stagy roles, as in Evita, but when it comes to the everyday, she comes across as rather limp.
And Swept Away is not the sort of film in which to be limp. It should be supercharged with fury, heat, and disturbing passion. Madonna lacks those things here, as does much of the film's second half. Miss Amber (Madonna) is a rich New Yorker traveling on a swanky Mediterranean yacht with her husband and friends. She's a thoughtless, heartless, wealthy capitalist (or the wife of one), who pushes the ship's help around as if she were a VIP on the Titanic. The focus of her ire is Giuseppe (Giannini), a fisherman forced to bow to Amber's every need, simply because she is the rich guest with the money.
A short series of circumstances has the pair washed away (or swept away, depending on your view of romance) to a deserted island, where they play out their own little version of Lord of the Flies meets Battle of the Sexes. Giuseppe is skilled at what it takes to survive, so he quickly turns the tables on his whiny companion, forcing her to become his servant in the name of revenge and other complicated emotions.
I give Ritchie credit for keeping the general vibe of the original intact. Amber is simply unbearable, and Madonna does make the character a juicy bitch. And when the couple begins battling on the island, Giuseppe is presented as brutish enough to take a few swings at Amber, and I'm glad Ritchie let his wife get smacked around a bit for the sake of the story.
But there's a vital characteristic to the original that is missing: As despicable as the female is, the man needs to be equally as deplorable when he's in charge. Ritchie heads toward that point... and stops. When the going gets tough, the tough get mushy, and this edition of Swept Away becomes a series of lovey-dovey picture postcards, as the couple romp on the beach and in their little hut hideaway.
Yes, Guy Ritchie, the filmmaker, is showing off Madonna, the performer wife, especially in a couple of sequences that both highlight the Material Girl's vigor and zest while attempting to s - t - r - e - t - c - h the film's narrative. But with the action aboard the yacht Ritchie also shows off his lovable moviemaking style. Those scenes have a winning energy, with simple caricatures and a generally sunny disposition that make the film feel like a light, simple farce.
But there are too many opportunities that go uncovered and unrealized. As the tide comes in and the lovers roll around in the surf, this comedy with a social and sexual undercurrent nosedives, leaving the film's deeper meaning to get swept away.
Sucked out to sea.