What happens when a brittle, overbearing socialite is stranded on an uninhabited island with the macho sailor she humiliated for kicks? In Guy Ritchie's ill-advised remake of Lina Wertmuller's controversial fable, SWEPT WAY... BY AN UNUSUAL DESTINY IN THE BLUE SEA OF AUGUST (1974), love conquers all, once the brawny he-man has taught his peroxided harpy some lessons in humility.
Filthy-rich Tony Leighton (Bruce Greenwood) surprises his wife, Amber (Madonna), and friends (Michael Beattie, Elizabeth Banks, David Thornton, Jeanne Tripplehorn) with a Mediterranean vacation aboard a chartered yacht. High-maintenance Amber, who's demanding, fickle and just plain mean, focuses her spiteful wrath on fisherman-turned-deckhand Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini, whose father starred in the original), demeaning him at every opportunity. Then the tables are turned: Amber and Giuseppe find themselves in a deserted, Darwinian paradise where the ability to spear an octopus with a sharpened stick trumps billions in the bank back home. Giuseppe adapts quickly, while hunger forces the clueless Amber to play by Giuseppe's rules — if she wants to eat, she must debase herself by doing menial tasks, calling him master and (literally) kissing his feet.
Both versions of SWEPT AWAY are driven by the shifting balance of power between the characters, who are actually less characters than broad-stroke embodiments of principles: effete, wealthy parasitism vs. working-class self-reliance. The effectiveness of this kind of issue-driven give and take relies heavily on casting, and Ritchie puts himself at a disadvantage: Madonna looks terrific in a bikini but she can't act, and the younger Giannini is stunt casting. He's not bad, but he lacks the chops to compensate for a blank slate of a costar. Perhaps more important, Ritchie and Madonna seem to misunderstand the story's fundamental dynamics, which are rooted in the bitter acrimony class warfare; Wertmuller's attention-getting sexual politics are strictly secondary. If you de-emphasize the brutal sexual interplay and highlight the comic spectacle of a snooty rich lady getting taken down a few pegs (which Ritchie and Madonna already did in Star, part of BMW's highly publicized series of car ads disguised as short films, collectively called The Hire) you're making OVERBOARD (1987), not SWEPT AWAY. Ritchie's film is easier to swallow than Wertmuller's polemical allegory, but it's self-defeatingly decorous — stripped of its mandate to outrage and offend (two words that once seemed to be part of Madonna's name), it's simply pointless.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: R
- Review: What happens when a brittle, overbearing socialite is stranded on an uninhabited island with the macho sailor she humiliated for kicks? In Guy Ritchie's ill-advised remake of Lina Wertmuller's controversial fable, SWEPT WAY... BY AN UNUSUAL DESTINY IN THE… (more)