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. ***
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