Swept Away (United States/United Kingdom, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The word that best describes Guy Ritchie's version of Swept Away is "unfortunate."

The word that best describes Madonna's attempt to play Amber Leighton is "unfortunate."

The word that best describes my decision to see this movie is "unfortunate."

Make no mistake: Swept Away is a bad movie. No amount of perfume sprayed on talk show audiences by Madonna and her husband can eliminate the stench of failure emanating from this motion picture. However, it is not, as has been suggested by a number of critics, one of the worst films of all time. (Hyperbole Alert!!) In fact, it's not even one of the worst films of the year. Swept Away comes out favorably when compared to the likes of Rollerball and Serving Sara. It fares the worst when contrasted with the original Swept Away, the controversial 1974 effort that earned writer/director Lina Wertmuller a Best Director Oscar Nomination.

For the most part, 2002's Swept Away is a relatively faithful remake of the original, at least in terms of the broad strokes. The ending has been somewhat altered (and not for the better), but, other than that, Ritchie has retained Wertmuller's plot, often repeating it scene-for-scene. Swept Away tells the improbable love story of Amber (Madonna), the sourpuss wife of a rich man (Bruce Greenwood), and Guiseppe (Adriano Giannini), a deck worker on a private yacht. After spending days berating Guiseppe during a boat trip from Greece to Italy, Amber ends up marooned on a deserted island with him. There, the balance of power shifts. Since he is the only one who can provide food, she must serve him in order to stay alive. He slaps her around a little. She dances for him. He beats his chest and exudes alpha-male pheromones. She sings, sounding more like Britney Spears than Madonna (and doubtlessly frightening away the seagulls in the process). While all of this is going on, Amber falls for Guiseppe (and he for her), and what began as an ordeal turns into an idyll.

As told by Lina Wertmuller, Swept Away is a fascinating and involving examination of gender issues and the shifting balance of a relationship – a drama with comedic overtones. As told by Ritchie, the movie is an examination of how beautiful scenery can upstage actors. It is also openly hilarious. Unfortunately, about 90% of the humor is unintentional. This Swept Away takes everything over-the-top, from Amber's bitchiness (she calls Giuseppe "Pee-pee") to her eventual slavish devotion (she kisses his feet and gazes at him longingly). The character's transformation isn't remotely credible, and, since Ritchie is incapable of depicting it in meaningful scenes, he falls back on the last resort of a bankrupt director: the montage.

There's only one person who believes Madonna can truly act: Madonna. Even Ritchie, her husband, appears to have his doubts. For that reason, he has surrounded the pop icon with a cast that matches (and at times exceeds) her ineptitude. The best of the bad lot is Adriano Giannini (the son of Giancarlo Giannini, who starred in the original Swept Away), whose chief assets are his looks and physicality, not his acting chops. Bruce Greenwood, who has never been memorable in anything not directed by Atom Egoyan, shows amazing control of his facial muscles by never changing his expression. Meanwhile, as wooden as Madonna is, she is easily upstaged on the awfulness scale by supporting actress Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays one of the other passengers on the yacht.

It's difficult to determine whether Swept Away should be viewed as a bigger shipwreck from a financial or a creative point-of-view. Considering Sony's marketing strategy, it's a foregone conclusion that the film will lose money. From a viewer's standpoint, the problem isn't that the cast, director, and script conspire to sink a motion picture that should have been electric, but that Swept Away is boring. A better title, for all concerned, might be Swept Under the Rug.

Swept Away (United States/United Kingdom, 2002)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Madonna, Adriano Giannini
Screenplay: Guy Ritchie, based on the screenplay by Lina Wertmuller
Music: Michael Colombier
U.S. Distributor: Screen Gems
Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 2002-10-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: Some English subtitled Italian
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1