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Swimfan Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 March 2003


20th Century-Fox home video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Shiri Appleby, Kate Burton, Clayne Crawford, Dan Hedaya, James DeBello, Jason Ritter
release year: 2002
film rating: No stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Although it was modestly successful, this teen variant on "Fatal Attraction" is pretty damned bad, and now it's difficult finding anyone who will agree to having liked it. It's handsomely photographed (by Giles Nuttgens) on attractive locations, mostly in New York, and everyone in the cast and crew acquits themselves responsibly, but the story is so familiar and the direction by John Polson so obvious, even pointlessly showy, that the movie sinks well before it can swim. Plus it has a stupid title.

In what passes for a small town in Hollywood (actually, it's a small city), Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford) is the hotshot of the high school swimming team, and hopes to get a sports scholarship for college. His sweet, adoring girlfriend Amy (Shiri Appleby) is as big a supporter of Ben as is his mother Carla (Kate Burton). A few years before, Ben had problems with drugs, but because of a spell in a juvenile facility (where he gained his interest in swimming) and the love and support of Amy and mom, Ben is now clean and sober and a model teenage citizen.

That is, until gorgeous Madison Bell (Erika Christensen) arrives at school. She's from someplace more sophisticated; her parents are away in Europe, so she's staying at the home of her cousin Christopher Dante (James DeBello), the school nerd. You can tell he's a nerd because, although as gorgeous as everyone else in the cast, he wears (bah dummm) GLASSES. He also acts like a dweeb.

Madison more than instantly fixes her hot gaze on Ben, who's a little nervous about it. However, when Madison (conveniently) leaves her notebook in his SUV when he gives her a ride home, he does return it to her at the Dante home, where she briefly exhibits what seem to be supernatural powers. (She gets from an upstairs balcony to the front door in nothing flat. On the commentary track, director Polson and actress Christensen are very proud of this trick.)

One night while Ben is practicing in the school swimming pool, Madison, who admits she can't swim (an obvious hint), joins him in the pool anyway, and comes on very strong to the reluctant Ben, to the point where they have sex in the pool. Afterward, Ben is guiltily jittery, and Madison concludes that they are now in love. Ben tries to avoid her, but Madison shows up at Amy's party, and even comes to Ben's home; he finds her chatting with his mother. (No father in sight.)

Madison futilely tries to arouse Ben's jealousy by obviously going after his friend and swimming rival Josh (Clayne Crawford), but Ben is adamant. However, when he unknowingly delivers the wrong medicine to an elderly man during his hospital orderly job, Ben is summarily fired. And when steroids turn up in his urine, he's kicked off the school swim team by his dour coach (Dan Hedaya). Poor Ben, what's he to do when up against a determined bitch like Madison?

Things, of course, get much worse before the all-too-neat ending. (Though Ben remains kicked off the swim team.)

On the commentary track, Polson actually boasts that the story is deliberately a teen variation on "Fatal Attraction," but he falls very far short of that mark. Unlike in "Fatal," here there are no shadings to any of the characters, no suggestion that Ben enjoyed his dalliance with Madison and now self-righteously feels guilty. There's not even the vaguest hint as to why Madison is the way she is, even though late in the movie we learn she's been through something like this before.

Dramatically, the film is crude and clumsy, badly plotted and obvious. Writers Charles Bohl and Phillip Schneider try for Hitchcockian effects, but their enslavement to "Fatal Attraction" keeps "Swimfan" from finding itself dramatically. It's so predictable it feels like you've seen it before.

When things start getting really hairy for Ben, we suddenly meet a cop -- but for a while, we don't even know who this guy is. Ben sneaks into Madison's room at the Dante home, and practically discovers the script -- it's one of those all-too-convenient scenes in which the hero discovers precisely what he needs to know, and sees nothing else at all. He's also conveniently helped by Christopher Dante, who seems to hate and fear Madison, though there's no indication as to why he'd feel that way.

At one point, Ben dives into the pool and then discovers a bloody dead body afloat in the lit-from-beneath water. You'd think that he might have noticed such a highly visible sight before he dove in, but no, not in "Swimfan." How does Madison get the steroids into Ben's urine? No clue. When something happens to Amy, the cops instantly assume Ben was responsible, even though no good motivation has been planted, and even though he has an unshakable true alibi.

The score -- mostly rock songs -- is well-handled and smoothly integrated into the film, but it's tiresome anyway. Like the script, it feels like it's being done by rote, rather than out of any sense of style. The sound gives sign of some creativity, with bird songs and a kind of open-air ambiance used at times to suggest the suburban setting, but the use is erratic, and the sounds are usually mixed too loudly. The rest of the sound in the film is adequate for an independent film. (Fox picked it up.)

Director Polson, who seems to be British, directly primarily in a routine but moderately effective style, but he doesn't seem to have given any thought to originality. Except, that is, in his use of jump cuts, and those don't work at all. On the commentary track, he explains that this was done only in scenes of Madison, and the little time lapses were to indicate her derangement. But since the main character is Ben, and we see things mostly from his perspective, the jump cuts don't at all have the effect Polson was going for, and are merely irritating and intrusive.

Erika Christensen, in the thankless role of the crazed teenage killer, gives the best performance; she does suggest deep-seated derangement, but unsupported by script or director, cannot even hint at the torture of unrequited love. Things play out as if she simply assumed she was going to be dumped by Ben, with all her revenge activity being the inevitable result even before it starts. We needed to see that Madison actually believed that not only was she in love with Ben, but that he loved her back (even, especially, though he doesn't). However, there's not even the faintest trace of this, in the film or in the collection of deleted scenes. A couple of them give signs that they should have been left in the film, but as usual with such DVD features, it's generally all too obvious why they were cut. Amy's black friend, seen in these deletions, actually would have had a role, but nothing exists to explain Madison's facility with a cello. It doesn't even connect psychologically.

The entire teenage cast consists of devastatingly handsome or meltingly beautiful actors; even James DeBello as the movie's required dweeb, is very handsome except, of course, for glasses, which everyone routinely treats as a grotesque disfigurement. Because the plot is so ordinary, and because everyone is so beautiful, the film never approaches even a semblance of reality. The characters are broadly but thinly drawn, and seem like nothing other than the set of characters the story required, the very soul of melodrama.

But thrillers are an honorable form of movies, and include some of the most satisfying movies ever made. "Swimfan" is routine, obvious and, ultimately, simply just uninteresting.

more details
sound format:
Dolby digital 5.1 surround
aspect ratio(s):
letterboxed at 2.35:1, opposite side has full screen print, 1.33:1
special features: "featurette" (basically an extended trailer), feature commentary by director and some cast, deleted scenes
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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