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A Holiday in Hell

Leonardo DiCaprio Went to The Beach and All He Got Was This Lousy Movie


Waterworld: Leonardo DiCaprio (center), Virginie Ledoyen, and Guillaume Canet prepare to reach The Beach

Virginie Ledoyen in The Beach

By Ian Grey | Posted

In The Beach, paradise is an island community of whiny, tanned young people living without "any bullshit ideology" or visible means of support on a really nice stretch of a Thai beach just a stone's throw from the squalor of Bangkok. In other words, it's essentially an AOL chat room where you can get wet. Based on a fine book of the same title by Alex Garland (who co-wrote what passes for the screenplay), The Beach seems to have something to do with our just-post-millennial confusion between the virtual and The Real Thing. But Danny Boyle's film version is so ferociously terrible, and so frantically busy at ineptly recombining parts of The Blue Lagoon, Lord of the Flies, and, of all things, Apocalypse Now, that any meaning is gets deep-sixed. The best that can be said of this alternately incomprehensible, idiotic, and possibly racist film is that it at least has the courage of its incoherence.

Leonardo DiCaprio, displaying an apparent career death wish, stars as Richard, a totally existential kind of guy wandering the sin-infested streets of Bangkok, complete with ratty clothes, fucked-up hair, and a really annoying voice-over. All we know about Richard is . . . well, we don't know jack about Richard, and things will stay that way for the entire movie. It might be that, unless Boyle's characters shoot junk or dive into toilets full of excrement (as they did in Trainspotting) or wear fabulous clothes and gruesomely murder people (as they did in Shallow Grave), the filmmaker is somewhat adrift when it comes to the more subtle aspects of characterization.

Anyway, when not expounding in that really annoying voice-over about the wisdom of drinking snake blood should some psychotic Asians ever offer it to you (as is done in the film for no reason), Richard lays around in a gamy hotel presided over by an inbred-looking, moronic Thai woman. One night, Richard's next-door neighbor, a deranged Australian skeezeball named Daffy (Robert Carlyle), jabbers on about God knows what, and then inexplicably gives Richard a map to the aforementioned island paradise. Then Daffy kills himself. His suicide is never explained. Maybe it's because he's daffy.

Anyway, as often happens to attractive young Americans in festering evil foreign cities filled with dimwitted or dangerous Asians, Richard hooks up with a snooty French couple (grumpy Guillaume Canet and pretty vacant Virginie Ledoyen). The trio decide to leave it all behind—whatever "it" may be, since we are given no clue what these people ever did before hitting Bangkok—and go to Daffy's island. But first, Richard draws a copy of his map for a clutch of brain-dead stoners he doesn't know. His reasons are so stunningly imbecilic they do not bear reprinting in this, a family-oriented alternative weekly. However, this moronic act will eventually give Boyle a way to bring an end to the movie, so its OK by us.

Anyway, a quick hop, skip, and channel swim later—and after a brush with some Thai thugs guarding a field of marijuana—Richard and his French friends manage to find the correct side of the island, which really does have a terrific beach populated by the aforementioned tanned young people, who lay around doing nothing in what looks like leftover sets from Gilligan's Island. This listless paradise is presided over by the alternately slutty and pouty Sal, played by Tilda Swinton without a bra.

For a while, Richard basks in the sheer bucolic splendor of it all, until the stoners, using that handy map, find the not-so-mysterious island. This really pisses off Sal, who then orders Richard to retrieve the map, or else. Richard—apparently stressed out by Sal's demand—stops bathing, hides in the jungle, dons a headband, sets highly complex bamboo traps, communes with the dead Daffy, and otherwise behaves like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Tensions between the trust-fund islanders, Sal, and the Thais mount, some other stuff happens, and the movie ends with what is essentially a terrific advertisement for Apple's new G4 iMac computers. Really.

But no mere plot synopsis, no matter how sarcastic, can prepare the potential ticket buyer for the stunning awfulness that is The Beach. The film scales peaks of Olympian awfulness heretofore solely the realm of Ed Wood Jr. at his most besotted. And we haven't even mentioned the truly Wood-ian problem of the Disappearing Shark Victim, the two inexplicably sexed-up subplots, or the gratuitous Swede jokes.

Boyle occasionally seems to be on the verge of attempting to make some sort of statement about the callousness of Today's Media-Gorged Youth, but all he achieves is a rapidly developing urge in the viewer to run quickly from the theater and rent every film with images and ideas Boyle has appropriated—even The Blue Lagoon. As for DiCaprio's acting, well, it's hard to gauge someone's performance as a character who barely even exists.

The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, but then again, cinematographer Darius Khondji (Seven, Stealing Beauty) could film a white parka against snow and make the screen seem filled with exquisite depth and dramatic portent. Another plus the film doesn't deserve is its stellar soundtrack, a veritable Who's Who of dance music including the likes of Underworld, Blur, Orbital, and Moby. Along with Angelo Badalamenti's orchestral strokes, the fabulous music plays almost continuously at a volume that nearly, but alas, fails to drown out the pretentious, overripe dialogue. Indeed, The Beach's soundtrack is a terrific example of state-of-the-art electronica at its most accessible. Whereas, and this is being charitable, The Beach itself is simply state-of-the-art, secondhand crap.

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