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Review: Stay away from 'Swept Away'

Remake of classic suffers from Madonna's acting

By Paul Clinton

Madonna in "Swept Away."

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(CNN) -- Undoubtedly Guy Ritchie's version of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 Italian-language classic "Swept Away" will be compared ad nauseam to the original by high-minded pundits from coast to coast -- many of whom probably never saw the original.

But what's the point? Both Ritchie and his wife Madonna -- the star of the film -- have stated again and again that remaking the original, with all its class and political conflict and heavy violence and sex, was not their intention.

Thank goodness for that, because the new "Swept Away" has little in common with the previous film. In fact, the finished project is more akin to a mixture of Goldie Hawn's 1987 "Overboard" and Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Regarding the latter, I'm not talking about the 1967 Burton-Taylor movie version, but a small-town high school theatrical production.

Sneer and loathing

Madonna plays Amber, a spoiled, rich rhymes-with-witch who's arrogant beyond the point of all reason. Her barely repressed rage hangs over her like a cheap perfume. In the screenplay by Ritchie, the character is hopelessly one-dimensional and has a one-note emotional range.

Of course, Madonna bangs away at that one note like a demented drummer. This film may not stop the debate raging over whether Mrs. Ritchie can or cannot act, but the number of people trying to defend her acting abilities is dwindling to a die-hard few.

Swept Away
Madonna ends up on a deserted island with a sailor played by Adriano Giannini.

The story begins with Amber and her wimpy, milquetoast -- but very wealthy -- husband Tony (Bruce Greenwood) boarding a yacht in the Mediterranean with a group of equally rich and equally bored friends. Amber takes an immediate loathing toward one of the crew, a fisherman named Giuseppe, played by Adriano Giannini. She proceeds to snap her fingers, her mouth, and any other handy weapon in his direction until he's on the verge of exploding.

At one point, the rest of the guests have taken a day trip in one of the yacht's small boats. Long after their departure, Amber decides to join them, and despite Giuseppe's warning about impending bad weather, they set out in another small boat. Surprise, surprise: A storm occurs, and they're washed up onto a deserted island.

Now the tables are turned. Giuseppe, the fisherman, is the one with the power. Amber is suddenly dependent upon him for food, water, shelter and survival itself. He's ready for revenge and wastes no time in seizing the opportunity to lord it over the spoiled, rich American. He forces her to call him master and wash his clothes by pounding them on rocks. (Madonna flaying Guiseppe's pants on a rock is almost worth the price of admission.) In return, he catches fish, and provides food and shelter.

Better than 'Shanghai Surprise'

Swept Away
Madonna is a wealthy wife in "Swept Away."

Now Amber goes through a transformation from an insufferable, self-involved monster to a warm, caring woman who is a cross between June Cleaver and Linda Lovelace. Of course, they fall in love and the question now becomes, what will happen when they return to civilization? Will her transformation last, or will she revert to type?

Does anyone actually care?

"Swept Away" isn't all terrible -- and it's not as awful as some of Madonna's more glaring atrocities, such as "Shanghai Surprise" (1986) and "The Next Best Thing" (2000). Ritchie's direction is clever, precise, inventive and quite effective. Giannini, whose father Giancarlo played the same role in the original film, is excellent. His proud fisherman, who stands his ground and stands for his principles, is both strong and endearing.

The locations are stunning and the cinematographer, Alex Barber, takes full advantage of the lush scenery. However, the one musical number -- there had to be one -- comes out of nowhere and returns quickly to the same place.

Madonna's die-hard fans will be pleased. This first major attempt at collaborating with her writer-director husband is neither a rousing success nor a blinding embarrassment. Still, it just sits there like a side dish no one ordered.

"Swept Away" opens in limited release Friday and will go wide in the coming weeks. It's rated R.

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