Swept Away is a movie promoter’s worst nightmare. On one hand there’s the film’s star, Madonna, whose acting has the audience appeal of a Florida Marlins doubleheader. Then there’s writer/director Guy Ritchie, Madonna’s husband. Ritchie’s previous films, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, were very well-received and earned him a respectable fan base. Unfortunately, Swept Away is the exact opposite of these movies.
Lock, Stock and Snatch were heist-comedies, with bumbling crooks thrust into exaggerated situations. Swept Away is a romantic comedy with a social conscience. Some water-boy on the set should have told Ritchie that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Lock, Stock came out in 1998 and immediately Ritchie was a sensation in his native England and in the United States. His camerawork and storytelling methods were flashy and fresh, and gave new life to the stagnant gangster genre. He followed suit in 2000 with Snatch, a strikingly similar film, but no less of a success. Ritchie’s sudden u-turn into romantic comedies would be like Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino signing on for Kate and Leopold 2.
Swept Away starts with a small, affluent group of people boarding a run down an Italian yacht. They’re soon whisked away to the Mediterranean for a nice vacation, but of course nothing goes as planned. Madonna plays Amber, the snobbiest of the bunch. She spends her days ordering around a crew member, Giuseppe, forcing him to wait on her whenever she calls.
After a few days of lounging around and complaining, Madonna orders Giuseppe to accompany her in a small boat to meet her friends on a nearby island. Along the way, the engine breaks, and after a bunch of clever plot devices, Madonna and her archenemy Giuseppe end up stranded on a deserted island.
Up until this point, the movie had been somewhat enjoyable. Ritchie’s witty dialogue and cool camerawork made it seem like a fun film. Then, disaster struck, for both the characters and the viewers. Sticking the pair on an island for the remainder of the film puts all of the chips on Madonna’s acting, or lack thereof.
The last half of the movie is like an extended fight scene, but instead of people fighting, it’s Ritchie’s crafty dialogue battling Madonna’s prima (finish it) acting. To the diva’s credit, her character is meant to be annoying, but so is Carrot Top’s and no one is showering him with praise.
Most of Ritchie’s signature filmmaking techniques go out the window once the pair washes up on the island. Instead of nifty editing tricks and pumped up music, Ritchie directs the last half of the movie like an episode of Total Request Live. There are at least three music montages within 15 minutes of each other, all similarly shot with the sun melting into the water as Madonna and her new friend fall in love. Somebody’s whipped.
No one is interested in watching a relatively new director expand his filmmaking talents in a boring and overdone genre. Adam Sandler has been tweaking Billy Madison for his entire film career, and no one is complaining. He gets rich, people enjoy it and no one cares that he hasn’t challenged himself with an indie Shakespearean role. Ritchie belongs in the gangster-comedy genre, and on his way there he should drop his material girl off at an acting retirement home.
Shawn Wines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.