With The Beach, their follow-up to the disastrous A Life Less Ordinary, the directing, writing, and producing team of Danny Boyle, John Hodge, and Andrew Macdonald (more fondly remembered for Shallow Grave and Trainspotting) has contributed to the expanding catalog of movies featuring foreign youths in peril in Asia. Previously limited to the underrated Return To Paradise and the laughable Brokedown Palace, The Beach may be the genre's most ambitious entry, but that doesn't make it the most successful. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a nondescript young American abroad in Thailand, a country where anything can happen but, to DiCaprio's eyes, seldom does. When a lunatic (Robert Carlyle) presents him with a map to an unspoiled beach that may exist only as an urban legend, DiCaprio sets off in search of it, bringing with him a similarly game French couple (Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet). Once there, the intrepid trio finds the island divided between gun-toting marijuana farmers and a quasi-utopian society run loosely by Tilda Swinton (Orlando). But trouble, predictably, follows them into paradise. The set-up is promising and Boyle's visual flair remains an asset, but the thinness of The Beach, adapted from a novel by Alex Garland, eventually does it in. Meant to be a sort of everyman, DiCaprio's character (and most of those around him) is a total blank, a fact that doesn't help his unbelievable late-film, Apocalypse Now-inspired freak-out. A shortage of ideas also hurts. Setting up an alternate society in opposition to the corruption of modern life ought to present the opportunity to toy with big issues; instead, Boyle presents his would-be utopia as something akin to an elaborate tailgate party for a Widespread Panic show minus the hacky-sacks. When it all starts to unravel, it seems no more surprising than a picnic winding down once the chips have been exhausted and the cooler emptied of beer. In the long run, the movie might serve DiCaprio well, however: A scene in which he hisses menacingly at a panicked teenaged girl shortly before bad guys mow her down with machine-gun fire could single-handedly end the actor's unwanted cottage industry of lockets, pins, and quickie biographies.
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