Imagine the potential: a gritty, innovative director remakes a provocative film about gender and class and the clash of diametrically opposed individuals when the tables are turned on their situation. Mix in sexual tension, deserted Ionian islands and two attractive co-stars and you could have a beach bonfire, lighting up the night with fire and sparks.
In this case, there is no spark to start the fire and the only thing “swept away” is the one hour and thirty-three minutes spent watching. What a waste of potential. Guy Ritchie, whose previous films include such witty works as “Snatch” (who will ever trust a pig farmer again?) and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, directs this updated version of Lina Wertmüller’s love story “Swept Away” (1974).
Ultra-rich, bored, and spiteful Amber Leighton (Madonna) grudgingly boards an insufficiently luxurious private boat from Greece to Italy. She is accompanied by her stone-faced husband (Bruce Greenwood), who seems vaguely amused by his wife’s tantrums. Also in tow are two other couples serving as a mildly debauched background for Amber’s anomie. On the boat, crew member Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini) is a former fisherman who cannot adapt to his new role pampering rich Americans. For him, Amber especially personifies all things evil about capitalism: the same cold, superficial, profit-driven selfishness that robbed him of his means to survive by killing off his “fishes”. Giuseppe, with his “Nature Man” beard, soon becomes the target of Amber’s derision, while she is the subject of his disgust and, after seeing her muscular beauty sunbathing, perverse attraction.
Through a series of mishaps, Amber and Giuseppe find themselves stranded on a deserted island where the tables are turned. Amber must rely on Giuseppe’s fishing abilities to survive and he is far from a willing provider. In exchange for food, Amber must become his servant – washing his clothes, kissing his feet, responding to his slaps with “yes, Master” – a situation in which she finds that (you guessed it) she actually loves him just as he loves her.
Adriano Giannini, whose father (Giancarlo Giannini) played the same character of Giuseppe in the original, glowers convincingly onscreen, but it is a generally wooden Madonna who adds the one spark to this otherwise soggy fare during her fantasy dance sequence.
Parents should know that this movie contains strong language, some violence and a near-rape. Amber’s verbal domination of Giuseppe on the boat is disturbing but his physical domination of her on the island is completely unsuitable for younger children (and many adults).
Families who see this movie should talk about the power politics in relationships. How is the power dynamic of domination and submission affected by situations beyond the characters’ control? How does money influence the actions of the different characters?
Families who enjoyed this film might consider other movies where the central character is forced to make a journey of self-discovery when survival is on the line (movies such as “Castaway,” “The Admirable Crichton,” “The Little Hut,” or “Lord of the Flies”) or a comic treatment of a similar plot with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in “Overboard.” However, for those who wish to see romantic sparks fly when opposites clash, skip this movie altogether and watch “African Queen” again.