Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: Ridiculous 'Swept Away' melodrama fails to earn tragic ending

If you're romantically involved with someone in the same profession, I can understand the urge to collaborate.

If nothing else, it makes carpooling easier. Plus there's Marc Antony and Cleopatra. I don't remember what they did together, but the fact I know their names can only mean it was an unqualified success.

Yet cautionary tales are legion. Among the grossest, and this month's Big Awful Friday: the collaboration of then-married writer/director Guy Ritchie and actress Madonna, 2002's Swept Away.

On a cruise with her rich husband and their equally rich friends, the impossible-to-please Madonna takes out her frustrations on servant and fisherman Adriano Giannini. After a boating accident leaves the two of them stranded on a deserted island, the tables turn as Madonna faces the choice of starving to death or becoming Giannini's servant.

The first minute of Swept Away is undeniably Guy Ritchie, stylish and visually intriguing. The following 85 minutes is undeniably terrible.

Swept Away adheres to the 30-Minute Rule, the cinematic convention where the main plot doesn't arrive for a half-hour, giving us time to be introduced to the characters and their soon-to-be-disrupted lives. It's common because it's effective. In this case, it's effective at making you want to tie Madonna to an anchor and heave her into the inky deep.

Even the satisfaction of drowning her would be spoiled by the knowledge she'd complain about the quality of the anchor's iron all the way down. Her character in three words (or at least the three I can use here): hateful, demanding, heartless. My best guess is this first act is supposed to be a lively class comedy. If bare stereotypes debating crude economic philosophy gets your belly shaking, watch on!

Until the second act, at least, when it changes tonal gears with a transmission-stripping jolt into a cruel, Stockholm Syndrome-heavy romance where Giannini must first break Madonna like a rowdy colt before he'll even deign to sleep with her. Any insights on class dynamics your brain may absorb from this reversal will be shaken loose by your intense shuddering at the creepiness of it all.

If this bakery-fresh tale of a passionate, soulful Italian teaching the crass American capitalist to love doesn't do it for you (complete with an anti-young woman tirade that sounds bizarrely like Ritchie justifying his attraction to his own wife), no worries! Swept Away becomes yet another movie in its third act when it magically transforms into a ridiculous melodrama that completely fails to earn its tragic ending.

It's an impressive feat, cramming three distinct genres into a single movie. More impressive yet, they're all intolerable in their own special way.

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