Beyond the Sea
dir. Kevin Spacey
Opens Wed Dec 29.

Some of you might be thinking about going to see Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey's tribute to nightclub entertainer/old-time rock 'n' roller/folk song dabbler/sometime actor Bobby Darin. I'm going to do you a favor and urge you, unequivocally, not to bother, unless, of course, you like bullshit. If you like bullshit, you should absolutely go check out Beyond the Sea, because the film is 100% bullshit, from the first shot to the last credit. The story is bullshit. The characters are bullshit. The premise is bullshit. The approach is bullshit. The acting is bullshit. The dialogue is bullshit. What about the music, you ask? Bullshit, even though a lot of the songs are great. (I'll explain later.)

That one film can be so frankly embarrassing in spite of all the talented people who banded together to make it is a testament to many things--Hollywood actors' capacity for self-delusion chief among them. I've never been the kind of movie reviewer who bothers to presume whether or not a film is worth spending money on, primarily because I don't care what you spend your money on. It's your money. I'll make an exception in this case, however, and tell you that Beyond the Sea isn't worth any money. It isn't even worth Argentine money. It's not even worth Confederate dollars. This movie is total bullshit, and nothing about it is even remotely defensible.

Kevin Spacey used to be a fantastic actor. He was so good that he could make an impression even on TV (he was the creepy incest guy on Wiseguy) or in tiny movie roles (he was the guy who tried to snort coke off of Melanie Griffith in the back of a limo in Working Girl). Then he became a celebrated actor and he was still good, even great sometimes, even though you could usually see him coming. By the time he became an overcelebrated actor, famous for his own mannerisms and tricks, he did what most overcelebrated actors do and started basically playing himself. Now he's done what a handful of overcelebrated actors before him have done: directed a film in which he stars as a historical figure of some kind--in this case, an overcelebrated performer. Weird. The dream in this scenario is a film that gets inside the artist's impulse, something along the lines of All That Jazz, or maybe Pollock. The reality is almost always closer to Chaplin, which is to say, bullshit.

Beyond the Sea ranks among the worst films of its sub-subgenre because its director/star only seems interested in making the film to exploit his remarkable physical resemblance to the title character. Once that's been established, he tarts the rest of the movie up in elaborate fantasy sequences (zero big dance numbers are usually enough; Spacey settles for three) and dopey monologues about the thrill of performance. There's even a literal inner child walking around. What there isn't is a character with any characteristics beyond his desire for massive fame, which would almost be interesting, if Spacey would only stop to examine that desire for the profound psychological hollow it reveals in the people who feel it. But he can't really plumb those depths, since--news flash--that desire, and its concomitant hollowness, is the very thing that has made Spacey massively famous. So Beyond the Sea is a film by one famous person reaching out across the years to another famous person only to say, "Hey, Bobby: If I had been in your shoes, I would have been famous, too." Bullshit.

As for the music, Spacey does a fine job as a mimic, singing the many hits from Darin's wide-ranging career (from "Splish Splash" to "If I Were a Carpenter") like a champ. Too bad he's so lousy at conveying the great communication of singing--to say nothing of songwriting. He's like a kid (an old kid) standing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush, hamming it up to a make-believe audience--in the end, all you see is the mirror. It cheapens the songs and makes you cringe to think this is anyone's fantasy of being a musician. Only an actor could make singing look so phony.

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