Swept Away

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It’s a shame what a bad woman can do to a good man.

Guy Ritchie showed such promise with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” with an exciting visual style and wicked sense of humor. At some point in all that, he married Madonna, whose own sense of glamour and originality waned with the 1980s and who has clung tenaciously to our collective consciousness like a frequently made-over barnacle.

Perhaps Ritchie’s marriage to the Material Girl is immaterial, but it seems like a good enough explanation for why “Swept Away,” his latest film, sucks so bad. Madonna stars in it, and if she has ever acted with any believability or depth, it must have occurred at a time when cameras were not rolling. She plays Amber Leighton, an Uber-rich Uber-bitch taking a yacht tour in the neighborhood of Greece and Italy with her long-suffering husband Anthony (Bruce Greenwood) and two other couples.

While onboard, Amber abuses the hired help with great ferocity, in particular a hapless fellow named Giuseppe “Peppe” Esposito (Adriano Giannini, whose father played the role in the 1974 film this is a remake of). Then Amber and Peppe wind up on a desert island together, where his survival skills make him the master and her the servant, which leads to a good deal of unsettling sado-masochism, which eventually melts into what the movie would have us believe is love but which is really an outrageous plot device that would be laughable if it weren’t so creepy.

Ritchie (who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing) manages what I would have thought was impossible. Here is Madonna, who I already don’t like and who isn’t winning any points with her flat, ridiculous performance. Her character is a complete jerk who deserves anything bad that should happen to her. And yet, when Peppe began abusing her on the island, I actually couldn’t root for it. In theory, yes, bad characters deserve come-uppance. But in practice, you don’t torture or strike women in a situation like this, no matter how awful they’ve been. Ritchie manages to make us dislike both main characters, which is a dubious achievement indeed.

Gone are Ritchie’s style and wit. Gone is the mischievous sense of fun that pervaded his other films. Here instead are drudgery and inanity. It is too tempting to say “Swept Away” is a shipwreck, so we will leave that to the reader, who surely has already made the comparison.

F (1 hr., 30 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, some strong sexuality, partial nudity.)

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