Rated R - Running Time: 1:58 - Released 2/11/00

It is abundantly clear that director Danny Boyle wants us to equate his tropical thriller The Beach with Apocalypse Now. Although no mention of that film is made in John Hodge's screenplay, which is based on the novel by Alex Garland, there are numerous references to it throughout the film. Unfortunately, the only thing more laughable than comparing this film to Francis Coppola's philosophical 1979 masterpiece is comparing Leonardo DiCaprio to Martin Sheen. DiCaprio, who was excellent in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and adequate in Titanic, obviously lacks the maturity needed for this role. He looks like a teenager, he acts like a teenager, and, although his character is supposed to have some sort of life-changing jungle experience in the film, he reflects no such metamorphosis nor result. He's the same snotty brat at the end of the film as at the beginning.

Besides Leonardo's inability to impress, the film suffers from a plethora of implausible plot elements and a story that meanders aimlessly through the tropical woods much like his character, Richard, does. It continues the trend of Southeast Asia horror stories like Return To Paradise and Brokedown Palace (I'm not even counting Anna And The King). Richard is a bored rich kid who takes a solo trip to Hong Kong for excitement, and soon learns about a mythical island with a secluded tidal pool, a white sand beach, and palm trees. Even though all these amenities could be found in Hawaii or any of a number of places currently on the regular routes of various commercial cruise lines, Richard decides to travel to the forbidden place, and invites his new French girlfriend (Virginie Ledoyen) and her French boyfriend (Guillaume Canet). After jumping a few hurdles, they arrive, and not only is it as beautiful as they expected, it is inhabited by a "self-sufficient" community of international potheads. A traveler's dream. But a series of unfortunate events leaves Richard cut off from the group, undergoing the aforementioned rite of passage.

There are enjoyable aspects of this film, including spectacular scenery of the tropical paradise (which the cast and crew apparently trashed during production, provoking litigation by the Thai government), and a standout performance by Robert Carlyle as the crazed bum who tells Richard about the place. But it is riddled with bizarre contrivances and unlikely scenarios. The commune is a dictatorship run by a sort of Hitler-in-a-bikini (Tilda Swinton), who surely did not ascend to this position because of her wisdom, since almost every decision she makes is selfish and ill-advised. The group is portrayed as a bunch of nature-friendly hippies who are tired of the rat race of civilization, but since they all use such things as Nintendo Game Boys and other battery-operated devices, not to mention tampons, chemical cleansers, and numerous products in plastic packaging, I kept wondering where the huge, toxic landfill is they must have created after 6 years there. Also, they apparently live on nothing but rice and fish, although none of them seemed to be suffering from scurvy and I didn't see one goiter in the bunch. And it's a good thing, because the island is bereft of anything remotely resembling a doctor.

We have all wondered what it would be like to live on a deserted tropical island, making our own way and our own rules. But The Beach doesn't take the subject beyond the fantasy level, since it refuses to address issues that would quickly come up in such a circumstance. And DiCaprio, donning a headband and a warlike scowl, doesn't provoke anything but a chuckle and a twinge of sympathetic embarassment. ***

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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