Beyond the Sea
Opens Wed., Dec. 29, at Metro and others
Kevin Spacey's biopic about Bobby Darin is an all-star production—from his point of view, at least. The lead actor, director, co- producer, and co-writer are all Spacey. Beyond the Sea is not beneath contempt, but it is beyond belief. After his post-Oscar (for American Beauty) four-punch smackdown of the calamitous Pay It Forward, K-PAX, The Shipping News, and The Life of David Gale, Spacey's self-destructive compulsion evidently required that he knock himself silly four ways in a single film. It's an amazing performance, in two senses of the word.
But give the dimply nitwit one thing: His vocal impression of Darin is genius. You have to see it to believe it. But better see it on DVD, so you can fast-forward past the biopic part. Few biopics have been more daringly incompetent, not even the Cole Porter abortion De-Lovely. Spacey's labored flashback setup sequences, pairing him in song-and-dance routines with Darin's younger self (ghastly new snaggletooth child actor William Ullrich), are even more painfully strained than the comparable scenes in De-Lovely.
The movie keeps trying to pump up the emotion of its pop hagiography, but its pop-culture hero is strictly DOA and stays that way. Spacey's sagging, pushing-50 face makes him grisly as young Darin, who broke through with the novelty tune "Splish Splash" at age 22 in 1958. It was a pretty good song, and Spacey sings it well, but no way did it inspire the kind of mass teenybopper swoon the film unconvincingly depicts. (Darin's infinitely superior teen tune "Dream Lover" is on the soundtrack, but doesn't get the full Bobby treatment.)
Spacey does better on Darin's midperiod metamorphosis, with the twin lizard-skin hits "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea." He captures the certain self-mocking irony in Darin's finger-snappin' Sinatra-clone persona, and the undercurrent of creepy desperation—Darin had a bum ticker, and he defied doctors' prediction that he would die at 15. He made it to 37, and managed one more mutation, into an imitation antiwar Bob Dylan/Tim Hardin type, before croaking in 1973. His versions of Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" and Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" (which aren't featured in the movie) and his own superbly eerie "Simple Song of Freedom" (which is) are so whisperingly laid-back they're practically posthumous. (It is the presence of death in his music that made "Beyond the Sea" so perfect as the soundtrack of the best-ever episode of The X-Files.)
Despite his fine mimicry, Spacey captures none of Darin's deeper dimensions, and he reduces his late-period philosophical folk pop to less than it was, rushing through a bit of the freedom song, caging it inside a boring portrait of unexplained depression, and omitting the bulk of Darin's late music. He spends more time on Darin's worthless Hollywood life—bad movies, marriage to bad teen actress Sandra Dee, fights over his 1964 Oscar loss (for a bad part in a bad movie, Captain Newman, M.D.). As Dee, Kate Bosworth isn't even a slip of a character. Spacey's ego crowds her into invisibility. In real life, she had a more cinematically promising bio, in a down-market way— sexual abuse, evil stage mom—but Spacey skimps on it. Greta Scacchi is squandered as Dee's mean ma, Brenda Blethyn as Darin's. Also underemployed, Bob Hoskins and John Goodman are there as Darin's yes men—and Spacey's, to make him feel he's in a real movie.
At Sea's nadir, Spacey says, "Memories are like moonbeams—we do with them what we want." And later, in voice-over: "While it looked like Bobby Kennedy might heal the country, Sandy and I drifted farther and farther apart." Of the film's multifarious failures, the most fascinating to me is its mysterious rendition of the Darin-Dee courtship. In one musical number, he keeps popping up in different disguises, like Jim Carrey, fighting to steal her from Rock Hudson. (This requires a disguise?) The Village Voice suggests that Beyond the Sea may one day be deemed to be Spacey's unconscious coming-out movie. Sadly, it could be the dying-out movie of a once-towering talent. (PG-13) TIM APPELO
Runs Fri., Dec. 31–Thurs., Jan. 6, at Grand Illusion
"I'm lucky," says Tum (Lalita Panyopas), an attractive young Bangkok secretary, but she's being ironic, having just been fired from her job. Returning home, however, she discovers a box full of cash that changes her fortunes and creates a growing number of corpses in her apartment. Who's the killer? Surely not the meek, mousy Tum, right? Well . . . let's just say the girl discovers some hidden resources while caught between two incompetent criminal gangs. This low-key 1999 black comedy by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor, Last Life in the Universe) recalls Into the Night and Apartment Zero as Tum is led into darker and darker territory during the course of one long day. It's "just like a movie," exclaims one friend, and 6ixtynin9 does indeed feels assembled from other movies. (The title of this SIFF favorite from 2001 refers to Tum's flipping apartment number, not to your smutty thoughts.) While lacking one outstanding scene or a big climax, the leisurely film does maintain an amusingly drab, deadpan comic tone throughout, plus a wealth of colorful supporting characters. (NR) BRIAN MILLER