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Overall Rating

Awesome: 22.73%
Worth A Look52.27%
Just Average: 20.45%
Pretty Crappy: 2.27%
Sucks: 2.27%

3 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Swimming With Sharks
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Kevin Spacey owns it."
3 stars

"Shut up, listen, and learn," hisses Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) to his cringing assistant Guy (Frank Whaley) in the indie black comedy 'Swimming with Sharks.' Buddy, a senior production executive at Keystone Pictures, enjoys grinding his lackeys into the dirt, where they belong.

The protagonist, Guy, is perhaps meant to be writer-director George Huang's nightmare of what he might have turned into. Huang did time as a schlepper at various studios; when he met Robert Rodriguez around the time that El Mariachi was the toast of Hollywood, Huang was inspired to quit his job and make his own movie. The result is smooth and sometimes funny. But Huang errs on the side of modesty. He hollows Guy out, gives him no inner life, and lets Buddy -- and Kevin Spacey -- dominate the movie.

Spacey makes a magnificent prick. When Buddy launches into one of his imitation-Joel-Silver tirades -- "Let me hear you say 'Would you like that in a pump or a loafer?' Because from now on you're gonna be selling shoes!" -- or tells Guy, "Your opinion means nothing. Your feelings mean nothing. You are nothing. You are here for me," Spacey takes such palpable delight in being a suave hard-ass that it's impossible not to like him. Huang gives Buddy a sob story to explain why he's so inhuman, but he doesn't need to. Spacey's performance has a subtext of compassion. Buddy, we feel, used to be Guy -- an idealistic kid who entered the studio inferno with visions of celluloid dancing in his head. After years of taking abuse and humiliation, Buddy is in charge now, and he believes it's his turn to dish out abuse -- he's earned it. Spacey makes us see how idealism can calcify, over years of disappointment and stress, into cynicism, self-hatred, cruelty. For the first time, I empathized with bastards like Buddy (who are plentiful outside Hollywood as well).

I wish I could say the same for Guy. He's as generically named as Buddy, but he's also generically written. Guy, an aspiring writer, enters the lion's den hoping to work his way up to a position of creative importance. Generally, this is the route of the talentless -- the route of people like Buddy, or Guy's predecessor Rex (Benicio Del Toro), who's hopping over to an executive spot at Universal. (The studio or the park?) We never see Guy writing his own stuff (he doesn't have time), but he does suggest changes to a promising script being shopped around by senior vice-president Dawn (Michelle Forbes). Guy's big brainstorm is to get a hot new John Singleton-type director (T.E. Russell) to commit to the script, and the grateful Dawn seduces Guy. This part of the movie is cloudy. Do Guy and Dawn really feel for each other, or are they just using each other? Huang doesn't tell us. Michelle Forbes has glamour and a smart, deep voice, but her features don't open up to the camera -- she's as opaque to us as she is to Guy.

Frank Whaley, playing a hapless schmoe doing ten things at once, doesn't have anything specific to play except masochism and then sadism. All the studio stuff, it turns out, is flashback. Huang cuts from the main plot to a present-day framing device in which the crazed Guy ties Buddy to a chair and tortures him -- savaging his hair, his face. This may be cathartic for Huang, but it's largely unpleasant for us, especially when Huang out-Tarantinos Tarantino by using an envelope as an instrument of torture. The humor turns brutish and rancid. The ending is "true," I suppose, but it leaves us with nothing. Swimming with Sharks is another vengeful acid-bath telling us how vicious Hollywood is (does anyone not know that by now?). It's a persuasive argument for aspiring young filmmakers to stay out of the shark tank, but that's all it is.

Huang can't get enough of the scenes in which Guy mutilates Buddy. Once Huang cast Kevin Spacey, he should have rewritten the script to reflect the real, human monster Spacey gives us. Nothing Guy can do to Buddy is as horrible and disfiguring as what Buddy has done to himself.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=696&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/19/07 23:38:13
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User Comments

7/09/10 brian Derivative ("The Player" meets "Misery") and unconvincing ending, but has its moments. 3 stars
11/06/09 Anonymous this is a messed up movie and not really a comedy. 4 stars
4/09/09 Dane Youssef Well-written, well-acted look at Hollywood off of the red carpet. Indie meets theater. 5 stars
2/15/07 johnnyfog Spacey is fucking scary at the end. He's the only reason to see this 3 stars
1/27/07 mets1986 Ridiculously over the top....in a good way 4 stars
5/04/03 George Jung One of the best films of the 1990s. Huang is a true talent. 5 stars
3/08/03 Jack Sommersby Entertaining satire, with a knockout perf by Spacey. 4 stars
8/03/02 R.W. Welch Cynical satire has strong writing and acting; not a box office pic. 4 stars
5/11/02 Justin P absolutely amazing performance by Spacey 5 stars
2/21/01 banjolady film industry study of corrupting character 4 stars
2/12/01 Jake This film definately has bite! 4 stars
2/11/01 Soggy Bottom Boy Similar to In the Company of Men in its power to disturb; intensely engrossing. 5 stars
5/16/00 The King of the Bros Radical like a Robot. 5 stars
2/15/00 Neil Austin To make a film this good with only 3 main people is genius 5 stars
12/03/99 terry spacey is great..film is odd 4 stars
10/27/99 Larry Barker loved the inside look at Hollywood Babylon lifesyles..just as I suspected! 4 stars
10/06/99 stevedub1 brill. start... grim turn... unfortunate, shallow ending. 4 stars
9/04/99 Weird Andy Evil,wicked,mean,and nasty. 4 stars
7/10/99 Elaine McNamara Spacey is brilliant 5 stars
1/29/99 hum if your already in a bad mood youll love it. otherwise it will ruin your day 4 stars
1/24/99 Chloe Marie Elestenogoph (clatter@hotmail.com) Depressing, angering, sickening...Fuck it! 1 stars
12/02/98 Kirgo One of the best behind hte scenes films ever! 5 stars
11/03/98 hum the right kind of over the top. itll shake you up 5 stars
9/26/98 Johny Good, but a little too over the top 3 stars
9/14/98 Chip Taylor Spacey's the best asshole in this movie. 5 stars
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  21-Mar-1995 (R)



Directed by
  George Huang

Written by
  George Huang

  Kevin Spacey
  Frank Whaley
  Michelle Forbes
  Benicio Del Toro
  T.E. Russell
  Roy Dotrice

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