Swimming With Sharks

"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 5/10/95)

By Monica Sullivan

Once upon a time when writers like William Somerset Maugham wanted to write about the games guys play with each other, he'd turn one of the guys, like Mildred Rogers in "Of Human Bondage", into a girl. "Swimming With Sharks" explores the S & M relationship between a Hollywood executive named Buddy (Kevin Spacey) & Guy , his assistant (Frank Whaley). There's a girl in the picture, but Michelle Forbes plays her like an alley tom cat who's been in one fight too many.

The previous assistant is so clearly gay and Guy and Buddy employ so many bitchy mannerisms and expressions that there's no real point addressing the issue of how deeply women are hated in this movie. Consider the source and all that. "Swimming with Sharks" admittedly owes a debt to "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Player", and maybe writer / director George Huang will be in Billy Wilder's & / or Robert Altman's league someday. But not yet. He telegraphs the ending way too early with a sob story that doubles as character rationale and plot contrivance.

All the admittedly clever observations about the master-servant relationship just hang in dead air when they're forced to support an artificially cynical climax that, frankly, belongs in the "so what? department. I mean, how wrapped up can you be about a situation that goes on for a year and that two words would have ended at any time? (For contrast, think four words: "Death & the Maiden"). And then there's supposed to be a generational clash between Buddy and Guy that doesn't work because Kevin Spacey is a very healthy-looking 35 and Frank Whaley seems rather old and frail before his time at 32.

Spacey is the film's producer and he's having such a rattling good time playing a creep that I couldn't help enjoying myself whenever he's onscreen. Whaley is a fine actor, but he's played an assistant one too many times and needs to develop a lighter touch for satire. (Although the script's deck is clearly stacked in Spacey's favor.) So "A" for the director's efforts, his sharp ears and for choosing a situation that almost everyone can identify with, "C" for originality and for sexual circumspection and "F" for spelling "accountant" in the credits with three "C"'s.

Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan

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