Just when you thought it was okay to go back in the water, Swimfan comes along.
It was at the six minute mark when I could hear the pitch that got this movie made. It went something like Fatal Attraction meets Dawson's Creek. If it wasn't that, then you can bet it was something close, and now you know everything you need to about Swimfan. Now bear in mind that would not be a bad thing if Swimfan was even remotely entertaining, but that little consideration is too much to hope for. Instead, writers Charles F. Bohl and Phillip Schneider, along with director John Polson, pile on cliché after cliché to the point where I was wondering if maybe Swimfan was a parody and I missed out on the joke. Alas, a few minutes into this disc's commentary track and it is quite clear how serious everyone involved took this project.
There are two kinds of bad movies—films that know they are bad but still want to have fun, and those that think they are making art. This train of thought was made crystal clear as I viewed Swimfan back to back with Brian DePalma's Femme Fatale. DePalma knows all to well that Femme Fatale is trash, yet instead of trying to hide behind the limitations of his movie, he floors the accelerator and cruises his film into overdrive. At the other end of the spectrum, Swimfan's director, John Polson, just never gets it. With the movie clocking in at a sluggish 85 minutes, Swimfan is about 55 minutes too long. There is no snap, no giddy excitement, no life to Swimfan. Replace the actors with fish and there would be more genuine emotion. Nothing on the screen is worth paying attention to because we have seen it all done before and usually done better. With Femme Fatale, you know right from the start where the movie is headed and how it is going to end but DePalma uses that knowledge to his advantage. Say what you will about DePalma, but the man knows how to craft a film, and by exposing his hand right at the start, he is able to work without a net to thrilling effect. Femme Fatale may be trash, but it is exhilarating trash. Once Swimfan plays its hand in the opening minutes, there is nothing left to look forward to but the credits. Its impotency is typified by the film being unable to rejoice in the sheer absurdity of having its femme fatale named Madison Bell. It really is a shame because the tools were on hand for something mildly diverting in a Skinamax kind of way, but with Swimfan, no one was around who understood how to handle them.
There is another big difference between Femme Fatale and Swimfan. DePalma's movie knows what it wants to be and is unafraid to journey there. Swimfan teases, or at least tries to, but never accepts what it was meant to be. It is therefore not a surprise to see that Femme Fatale carried with it an R rating, while Swimfan carries the safer PG-13. In trying to reach the widest possible audience, Swimfan betrays its own nature and ends up being about nothing. I suppose I'm supporting the use of gratuitous sex and violence here, but what is Swimfan if not an exploitation movie? Or at least isn't that what it is supposed to be? I ask because it is pretty clear the filmmakers had no clue.
There seems to be a sad trend developing that the more meaningless the movie, the better treatment it receives on DVD. In regard to the extras provided, Swimfan proves to be no exception. There is the commentary I mentioned earlier with John Polson, who is joined by actors Jesse Bradford and Ericka Christensen. To hear Polson go on and on about the movie it really is hard to believe we were looking at the same thing. Also included are 10 deleted scenes, which are little more than scene extensions, a brief featurette called The Girl From Hell, and a theatrical trailer for a movie which is not called Swimfan.
Not that anyone should really care, but Fox has released Swimfan as a dual sided, single layered disc containing an anamorphic transfer of the film's 2.35:1 aspect ratio on one side with the other containing a pretty bad hack and scanned version. Both transfers are little better than the movie itself while the sound is a front loaded 5.1 mix. Bass is pretty solid but the rear channels don't have much to do and the mixing of the music was done with a heavy hand.
Long story short. Avoid Swimfan, as it's awful enough to give puddles of water a bad name.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director John Polson and Actors Jesse Bradford and Erica Christensen
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