Long, long ago, when the force of nature called Madonna first burst onto the pop culture radar, many pundits thought she had the makings of a movie star. This rosy assessment was based on the success of the Material Girl's early music videos and her appearance in the low-budget comedy "Desperately Seeking Susan."
To the surprise of no one, Madonna also believed she was movie star material. Thus, starting in the mid-1980's, she set sail on the cinematic high seas, searching for the right vehicle to showcase her "unique talents."
Unfortunately, Madonna's journey for Hollywood glory often resembled a voyage of the damned. From "Shanghai Surprise" to "Who's That Girl?" to "Bloodhounds of Broadway" to "Dangerous Games" to "Body of Evidence" to "The Next Best Thing", Madonna stuffed so many turkeys she threatened to put the Butter Ball people out of business.
Those with lesser mettle would have quit. But not Madonna. Instead, the Material Girl continued in the best Captain Ahab tradition, until she finally harpooned--with the help of her second husband-- the Great White Turkey that would finish off her film aspirations for good: 2002's "Swept Away."
Lovingly written and directed by Guy Ritchie, "Swept Away" was a remake/reboot of Lina Wertmuller's controversial art-house hit "Swept Away...By An Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August"(1974). That movie was the tale of a rich (capitalist) shrew and a poor (commie) deck hand stranded together on a deserted island. Earlier, the rich shrew had mistreated the poor deck hand, so when they are shipwrecked, he gleefully turns the tables on her--which she finds she enjoys, along with the kinky sex.
Such a film seems ideal for the gal who made that coffee table book Sex and recorded a ditty about the joys of spanking, right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong.
Ritchie's remake ignores the original's philosophical and sexual politics and merely casts Madonna as a rich, bored, mean, jet-set trophy wife named Amber. She, along with her shallow hubby (Bruce Greenwood) and their jerk friends, are cruising around Greece in a private yacht. As rich, bored, mean jet set trophy wives often do, Amber spouts off about every subject under the sun. ("I'll say one thing about capitalism," Amber pontificates at one point. "It's better than communism.") She also feels entitled to mock, insult and belittle the studly deck hand Pepe (Adrino Giannini). After all, she's rich, he's poor and her wealth and social position ensure that Pepe will have to silently suck-up Amber's entitled nastiness, right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong.
Late one afternoon, Amber commands Pepe (whom she calls "Peepee") to take her out in the yacht's dinghy. He says the current isn't right. Amber insists. Pepe says it's too late in the day. Amber insists even more. So Pepe takes Amber out. Then the dinghy's motor conks out. "I can't believe you went out in the middle of the ocean without a cell phone!" Amber rages as they bob around the Mediterranean. Then a storm hits. After Amber fights Pepe for the flare gun, the dinghy springs a leak. Eventually the duo wash up on a deserted island, just like in "Gilligan's Island."
With no phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe, it's primitive as can be--which means rich, mean, bored jet set trophy wife Amber is out of her league and over her head. Pepe, on the other hand, is in his element: he can fish, find shelter, locate clean water, make tools, build a fire. He also remembers Amber's past mistreatment of him, so he's more than ready for some payback.
What does Pepe make Amber do? He has her calling him "master", for one thing. He makes her wash his clothes. He has her collecting firewood. Later, Amber is tenderizing his octopus, rubbing his feet and serving him dinner. At different times, Amber rebels and Pepe slaps her. Amber rebels again and Pepe nearly rapes her. She tries running off and he goes after her. ("Run, my little vixen, run!" Pepe cackles as he gives chase). They tussle in the sand. Pepe reminds Amber that HE is in charge now and SHE better like it.
Slowly but surely, Amber complies. In fact, Pepe's "tough love" approach begins to warm the cockles of her black heart. Before long, the duo are getting all kissy face and "Gilligan's Island" has becomes an "Island of Love." However, once the couple are inevitably rescued, will their love survive?
The heavy handed role reversal in "Swept Away" is suppose to be funny, sexy and/or provocative. Maybe in 1974 it was. But in the hands of Ritchie and Madonna, the remake is none of the above. The flick's biggest problem is, not surprisingly, Madonna herself. Even though she's been at this a while, the Material Girl still hasn't figured out that posing and/or voguing is not the same as acting. Furthermore, the Material Girl seems inexplicably drawn to unlikable characters, which is fine--as long as the characters are interesting. Amber, however, is not interesting; she's just mean. Why is she so mean? What's her story? Was she this mean when her husband first met her? Why do people put up with her nastiness? The movie gives us no insight as to why Amber is the way she is; it just forces us to endure her hatefulness. Considering what a monster she is, it would be easy to understand if hubby, discovering Amber was lost at sea, ordered the yacht back home--pronto!--and left her to rot.
Now let's consider the remake factor.
If a film is done right the first time, why remake it? Lighting rarely strikes in the same place twice, after all. What's more, certain flicks are so much a part of the era they were filmed in, a remake or reboot often dilutes (or obscures) the very qualities that made the film special to begin with.
Last. but not least, "Americanized" remakes of foreign films are more often than not duds. Why? Because the unique sensibility of a picture's country of origin adds to its flavor. If that is removed, the film's personality is often fatally altered.
So let's take stock: "Swept Away" has an unbearable lead character acted by an actress who can't act. The flick is a remake of a very '70's film and doesn't even attempt to tackle the political/sexual issues that made the original original. The supporting cast is made up of shallow jerks acted by colorless actors. And the director/writer of the film has no finesse with comedy, drama, romance or the eternal battle of the sexes. Put them all together and you have one big worthless hunk of steamy feta cheese.
The moral of this story? Well, there are several.
Whether she is co-starring with her ex-husband or being directed by her ex-husband, it doesn't make any difference: Madonna can't act.
Don't bother with remakes--foreign or national!
When in doubt, go for the original. As they say in Greece, "It's the older chicken that has the juice."
And save the movies!