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Swept Away

A powder keg of class and sexual politics, Italian director Lina Wertmüller's 1974 film Swept Away was intended and received as a rude provocation, boldly underscoring the battle of the sexes with severe Marxist dogma. At the time, even Wertmüller's gender couldn't shield her from charges of misogyny, as some critics were left queasy by the film's depiction of rape, abuse, and female subservience. A remake, much less a faithful remake, seems impossible today, but credit writer-director Guy Ritchie for hitting all the right notes, even as he completely misses the tune. His version of Swept Away is like hearing a symphony on the kazoo. In tailoring the original story as a star turn for his wife Madonna, Ritchie (Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) softens the tone to such an extent that it turns into a silly romantic comedy. The rape is now rough-and-tumble foreplay, the slapping and abusive language merely frisky, and the seething class resentment mostly played for laughs. In other words, Ritchie has actually remade the 1987 Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell vehicle Overboard, another role-reversal comedy that opens with a snooty socialite and a modest layman butting heads on a yacht. Attempting a sly comment on her public persona, Madonna overplays the role of a pampered malcontent who throws star fits and slings abuse at the help. En route from Greece to Italy with her rich, ineffectual husband (Bruce Greenwood) and their boozing friends, she singles out deckhand Adriano Giannini for most of her barbs, complaining loudly over the tiniest glitch in her accommodations. But the tables are turned when the two wind up stranded on a deserted island in the Mediterranean, and Giannini's earthy masculinity and know-how give him leverage that money can't buy. While he spears fish, discovers a clean water source, and begins construction on a full-scale replica of the Gilligan's Island set, Madonna comes to him begging for her survival, which puts her in a compromising position. Ritchie pays homage to Wertmüller with a 10-second tussle over the merits of capitalism versus communism, but he otherwise buries the politics in metaphor, leaving love montages to conquer all. The original Swept Away hasn't aged gracefully, but Wertmüller's scandalous ideas brought a sense of urgency and power to the romance; in her eyes, love has a way of leveling the playing field, because it makes all parties vulnerable. Lacking the same conviction, Ritchie's frivolous comedy tries to have it both ways, thinning out the material for mass consumption while still sticking to the script—an unstable alchemy that backfires horribly. When the end credits roll, audiences can be forgiven for ripping the velvet off their seat covers.

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