Dir: Guy Ritchie. UK-US. 2002. 89mins.

Even with husband Guy Ritchie writing and directing, Swept Away turns out to be another bewilderingly off-key movie vehicle for Madonna, a misconceived and unappealing romantic comedy - based on Lina Wertmuller's 1974 Italian film Travolti da un Insolito Destino nell'Azzurro Mare d'Agosto - that lives down to its advance word of mouth. Perhaps aiming for a relatively mature, upmarket audience, Sony's Screen Gems opened the film (to mostly damning reviews) in 196 US locations last weekend, but reaped only an estimated $375,000 gross, a meagre average of $1,913. A short US theatrical run will probably be followed by an equally disappointing performance in the international marketplace (where Columbia TriStar International is distributing), though curiosity might draw out crowds in a few select territories, Italy and the UK (where Madonna and Ritchie are particular tabloid favourites) among them.

Adapting Wertmuller's film for the multi-faceted persona of the Material Girl - who last starred on the big screen in the poorly received 2000 comedy drama The Next Best Thing - certainly seems like a promising idea. The story of a beautiful 'rich bitch' and a shaggy Communist fisherman stranded on a deserted Mediterranean island became, in Wertmuller's hands, a socio-political parable dealing with capitalism, gender conflict and kinky sex, subjects that have figured strongly in Madonna's musical work.

Ritchie's script follows the narrative of the original film fairly closely but drops most of the overt political content. The result is a feature that is less strident and more approachable than the original but one that seems, stripped of its political message, to make very little dramatic or emotional sense. And whereas Wertmuller managed to mix comedic and dramatic tones quite successfully, Ritchie, previously known for his British gangster movies Snatch and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, lets his film lurch clumsily from one distinct mood to another.

At first, Swept Away plays like an Ugly American comedy, as Madonna's 40-year-old Amber gripes about conditions on the yacht hired by her wealthy husband (Greenwood) to take her and two other couples on a private cruise from Greece to Italy. The target for Amber's frustration is Giuseppe (Italian actor Giannini in his first English speaking role), a handsome young local working as a deckhand. The tone shifts to farce when the two antagonists become stranded on an idyllic island and the resourceful Giuseppe turns the tables on Amber, demanding that she call him 'master' and wait on him hand and foot.

The most jarring shift comes when Giuseppe threatens to rape Amber and Amber responds by suddenly falling for her tormentor. Thereafter, Swept Away becomes first a soppy romance and then, finally, a laughably over-the-top tragedy.

Nor does Ritchie's writing or directing do anything to help Madonna's uncertain acting performance. In the original, Mariangela Melato's Raffaella was aloof but still alluring; here, Amber is at first simply repugnant, a caricature with over-sized shades and an over-done tan spitting out abuse at anyone within reach. Later in the story - and during a brief fantasy musical number - the character becomes more physically appealing even if Madonna's performance becomes no more dramatically convincing. Giannini (son of the original's co-star, Giancarlo Giannini) does a respectable job as Giuseppe, although he feels too young to face up to Amber in what should be the film's central battle of the sexes.

Prod cos: Ska Films, CODI SpA
US dist:
Screen Gems
Int'l dist:
Columbia TriStar Film Distributors Int'l
Matthew Vaughn
Adam Bohling, David Reid
Ritchie, based on Travolti Da un Insolito Destino Nell'Azzurro Mare d'Agosto by Lina Wertmuller
Prod des:
Russell de Rozario
Eddie Hamilton
Costume des:
Arianne Phillips
Michel Colombier
Main cast:
Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Bruce Greenwood