Swimfan

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Let us discuss Jesse Bradford, the 23-year-old actor whom we first noticed in the snappy teen film “Bring It On.”

Since then, he seems to have chosen his projects based on what he gets to do in them. In “Clockstoppers,” he was the lead character and he learned how to stop time, which is pretty cool. Now, in the competent but unremarkable “Swimfan,” he’s the protagonist again, and he has two gorgeous women lusting after him, one of them even willing to kill for him. I fully expect that his next film will be about a boy who can fly.

All of which sort of explains why Bradford, who is fairly talented, keeps turning up in these lame movies: because they’re fun to make. Who wouldn’t want to kiss Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby, as he does here?

Bradford plays Ben Cronin, a New Jersey high school senior with a promising future in the world of competitive swimming. His girlfriend Amy (Appleby) is pretty and supportive. He is beloved at school, but not arrogant about it. His mom (Kate Burton), a nurse, is proud of him. Naturally, in his spare time, he works with old people at the local hospital.

Then he meets the new girl in school, Madison Bell (Christensen), a winsome, moon-faced gal who’s staying with her weird cousin Dante (James DeBello). She is immediately smitten with Ben, and somehow they have a one-night stand, except it’s not really a “stand,” because they do it in the pool. More of a one-night float, I guess. Later, when Ben tries to tell Madison that it truly was a one-night thing and he regrets it, Madison turns her crazy knob up a few notches. More or less, you know what happens from there.

It makes little sense for Ben and Madison even to spend the one evening together. We see Ben dressing up when he knows he’s going to meet her, but none of his rationale for it. One assumes there would be internal conflict — he’s attracted to this new girl even though he already has a perfectly good girlfriend — but it is not shown.

This is because the screenplay, by relative newcomers Charles F. Bohl and Phillip Schneider, is efficiency-minded. The characters must have sex, because that’s what the movie hinges on. Never mind how we get there, let’s just get there.

Most of the events within the film (directed by John Polson) are not impossible, though they do tend toward the improbable. Even still, it’s not what happens that makes the film ridiculous; it’s HOW it happens. The cold, steely stares that Madison is always giving, the accompanying overwrought musical score and sound effects, the annoying jump-cuts employed every time a scene becomes intense — this is a movie trying to convince you it’s suspenseful when it’s actually anything but.

Christensen was great in “Traffic,” but you wouldn’t know it by watching her glassy-eyed, over-the-top performance here. Bradford, meanwhile, is desperately in need of some better material. Jesse, I urge you to choose a good script, even if it means playing a character who is neither a ladies’ man nor a superhero.

C- (1 hr., 25 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity, brief sexuality, a little violence.)