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Beyond the Sea

Review Written by: Joe Earp
Film: B+
What the MPAA Rating should be: PG-13 (for language and sexual content)

Directed by: Kevin Spacey
Written by: Kevin Spacey and Lewis Colick
Produced by: Kevin Spacey, Jan Fantl, Arthur Friedman and Andy Paterson
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn
Studio: Lions Gate Films

Albino Alligator hardly established Kevin Spacey as a film director. An unfocused mess, the movie veered from clichéd melodrama to rather poor comedy. I think Spacey is a tremendous actor, but I was rather worried about how Beyond the Sea would turn out. As a result I am delighted to report that I had a hell of a good time with this movie. Although it still wasn't perfect I can safely say this is a film which will provide you with a lot of good, old-fashioned fun.

Some scenes are rather clichéd, and the movie seems determined to portray Darin as a saint: he stands up for black people, he's an amazing husband, his son loves him dearly and so on and so forth. As a result its rather hard to take the movie seriously: Darin feels like a cardboard cut-out rather than a real person. Spacey has repeatedly told the press that Bobby is one of his heroes and it definitely shows. However he obviously never considered that an audience might feel more sympathy for Darin if they saw him go through some terrible experiences but eventually come out on top. There's no duality at all to the character. One could also question Spacey's casting of himself: he's far too old to play the role and as a result its very easy to mistake this film for a vanity piece.

Nevertheless the movie is great fun. If you're a big fan of Darin (which I certainly am) you'll have a whale of a time and even those who have never heard of the great singer will surely get a lot out of the toe-tapping classics such as 'Mack the Knife' and 'Splish-Splash'. But the real standout is Spacey's amazing direction. The shots are all tremendously beautiful with mirrors and highly polished floors creating wonderful setpieces. The musical scenes are simply exceptional. Spacey throws you right into the moment, giving the film a sense of fun and energy. Only Bob Fosse has managed to handle musical numbers quite this well.

It would have been nice to see a few more complex characters: all of the main players are saints. No one drinks or gambles or even swears. There's not a single flawed character in the movie but hey, when you're having this much fun you don't really give a damn. Of course the screenplay is where the movie really falls down: not only are the characters completely unbelievable Darin's meteoric rise to fame, his by-the-numbers plunge into alcoholism and women which is cut short to give him just enough time to become a star once more, is incredibly cliche. We've seen this kind of stuff time and time again in movies such as Walk the Line or even earlier in The Doors.

However Spacey sings most of Darin's classics with great vigour and energy. The young Bobby isn't nearly as talented, but again you look over the movie's flaws when you're enjoying yourself so much. In a way Beyond the Sea feels like an old-school musical: a film reminescent of something Rex Harrison might have done a few decades ago. In the hands of a lesser talent the movie could have fallen down pretty early on, providing us with a rather unwatchable cinematic experience. However in Spacey's hands the movie is enjoyable: nothing more, nothing less. At least however, I had a good time. In a way it transported me back to an era of huge musicals and collosal epics, where special effects came first, characters second, where Cecil B. Demille was king and where George Cukor was still telling Audrey Hepburn how to whine in key.

So now I've rambled through this review I think I'm about done. All I can say is this definitely a flawed movie, but still very very fun. For a while it wasn't going to be screened over here in Oz seeing as we're in that 'other' hemisphere. But I must say I'm very glad it did.

Kevin Spacey singing his heart out in Beyond the Sea.
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