Swept Away

Guy Ritchie directs his wife — that would be Madonna — in a movie that casts her as a 24/7 ice-cold bitch who warms up only after a real man slaps, kicks and then sexually subjugates her: Kiss my feet. Suck my dick. Call me master. What's up with that? Let the marriage counselors weigh in. It's my job to deal with the movie, a remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1975 art-house hit Swept Away.

For starters, it blows. Madonna continues to mistake a knack for striking poses with the interpretive skill of a real actor. After a promising start in 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan, it's been pretty much turkeys: Shanghai Surprise, Who's That Girl, Body of Evidence, Dangerous Game, The Next Best Thing. And don't talk to me about Truth or Dare (she was playing herself) or her turn as a singing dictator in Evita (she was still playing herself).

In Swept Away, Madonna's Amber is the high-maintenance trophy wife of Tony (Bruce Greenwood), the tycoon who arranges a yacht trip from Greece to Italy for themselves and two other couples. For charity's sake, I won't smear the other actors by naming them — they're barely onscreen long enough to register.

The focus is on Amber and Giuseppe (hunky Adriano Giannini), the crew's resident fisherman. Amber calls him Pee-Pee and sniffs at him like she's smelling a rotting seafood platter. When the two end up alone on a desert island (don't ask), the S&M games serve as foreplay to — gasp! — true love.

Wertmuller used the capitalist wife (Mariangela Melato) and the communist deckhand (Giancarlo Giannini, daddy to Adriano) to play a witty game of power politics. Ritchie, far comfier with the laddie action of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, dumps the politics. What's left is a non-PC movie bereft of irony and burdened with such acts of desperation as Madonna, wearing Versace, lip-syncing to Della Reese's "Come On-a My House." You'll see nothing scarier in Red Dragon.

Giannini is the lucky one. This is his first English-language film, and his words are mostly unintelligible. Madonna recites her husband's lines loud and clear. Near the end, he saddles her with a long, punishing closeup in which Amber is meant to veer from hope to ruin. Madonna just looks like her voguing wires shorted out. Audiences are likely to be slack-jawed. Note to boat fans: No yacht was harmed during shooting. It's the movie that's the shipwreck.

From The Archives Issue 908: October 31, 2002