Beyond the Sea

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 01/01/05 09:31:27

"Mack the Butter Knife"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Unlike a lot of obsessed fans who imitate their favorite performers, Kevin Spacey can croon Bobby Darin's songs and emerge with his dignity intact. Spacey can switch musical genres with the same ease and finesse that Darin could. Behind the camera, however, Spacey isn't as poised.

In addition to playing the lead, Spacey co-wrote the script and directed and produced Beyond the Sea. It presents Darin's short life (he died at the age of 37 in 1973) as a musical with a little touch of surrealism. As a result, it's just about as rewarding as the similarly unimpressive De-Lovely. There isn't a guardian angel recounting Darin's story, but there might as well be.
The film begins as if it were being directed by Darin (actually Spacey, but that's beside the point). Unhappy with the way the shoot is progressing, he consults with the younger version of himself (newcomer William Ullrich). The tot then guides Darin though a tepid recounting of his past.
This device is a bad idea from the get go. Taylor Hackford's Ray could be dismissed as a boiler-plate biopic, but Hackford was smart enough not to toy with the inherently fascinating story of Ray Charles' life and career. You don't need to noodle with presentation, when you've already got an engaging tale.

Darin's life has its dramatic points (his constant health problems and his attempts at social consciousness), but for the most part, the film presents Darin as simply an abrasive egomaniac. Ray Charles may not have always been a friendly guy, but at least he was complicated enough to be interesting in Hackford's film. Even after viewing Beyond the Sea, we still don't know that much about Darin.

Spacey can certainly move and sing well, but his staging is remarkably lackluster. So as the young but sickly Walden Robert Cassotto grows into Bobby Darin, it's a little hard to get worked up. Spacey does deserves some credit for attracting other A-listers to the cast. Bob Hoskins is fine as the singer's supporting brother-in-law, and Brenda Blethyn is terrific as his ambitious stage mom.

Unfortunately, he gives John Goodman little to do as Darin's manager, and Spacey's casting of himself is inherently problematic. Spacey is almost a decade older than Darin was when he died. Except for an in joke during the prologue, Spacey expects viewers to buy him as a character nearly two decades younger.

As a result when he plays opposite of 21-year-old Kate Bosworth as Darin's wife Sandra Dee, he looks less like her husband and more like her incestuous father. When they get into marital squabbles, it's hard to pay attention to the content of the scene because the two leads are so far apart in age.

At least the soundtrack is listenable, I might be willing to catch Spacey singing on tour. That way I can enjoy the tunes and not have to wade through the clumsy drama.

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