A scene from 'The Beach'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 118 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, February 11, 2000
Directed by Danny Boyle

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet & Robert Carlyle


Gorgeous locales won't have the same impact watching at home, and that's the best part of this movie.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 7/25/2000


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'The Beach' an uninvolving amalgam of paradise, pop psychology, watered-down danger

By Rob Blackwelder

One would think that edgy, hallucinogenic "Trainspotting" team of Danny Boyle (director) and John Hodge (screenwriter) would be a perfect pair to adapt "The Beach," prodigy-novelist Alex Garland's edgy, hallucinogenic, travelogue about Southeast Asian adventure gone awry for a GenX-er with wanderlust.

Such a marriage of sensation-spawning literary innovation and cinematic audacity should, at the very least, produce a film that is engrossing, if not hypnotic.

But it appears 20th Century Fox put Boyle on a pretty short leash after investing $20 million to secure Leonardo DiCaprio for the movie's lead, because on film the final product is an utterly common and uninvolving amalgam of paradise photography, detached pop psychology and watered-down danger.

A study in the selfish heedlessness of prosperous Western youth, "The Beach" opens in Bangkok, where backpacking fringe tourist Richard (DiCaprio) has landed in search of the kind of international experiences that might make him feel more worldly.

Crashing in a dilapidated flophouse, he encounters a rambling, drug-ravaged, expatriate Scotsman (Robert Carlyle), who spins a seemingly tall tale about a colony of civilization-shunning former globetrotters hidden on an island paradise. Richard wakes the next morning to find the Scot dead by his own hand and a hastily-sketched map tacked to his door.

Resolved to find this utopia, he invites a 20-ish French couple (Guillaume Canet and the lithesome, lovely Virginie Ledoyen) staying in the room next door to come along. Their trip takes them across Thailand, through the lives of some American stoner dudes (for whom Richard foolishly copies the map), swimming a wide, gorgeously tropical channel and onto the pristine island -- where they're forced to hide from heavily-armed marijuana farmers before finally finding the fabled commune.

Part "Robinson Crusoe," part "Lord of the Flies," "The Beach" tries to build peril and gravity around the tension that begins to crack this strangely impersonal community and its increasingly abnormal ideals. But the edge the picture aspires to is conspicuously wanting. Thanks to the comely head-shot casting of extras and a noticeably inconsistent soundtrack (the unoriginal, magic paradise score yields to frequent, ill-fitting Lilith Fair ditties), "The Beach" often comes off more like a dark, tragically hip "Gilligan's Island" populated by pouty, petulant, Gap ad models.

DiCaprio makes a decent enough poster boy for generational apathy, but he doesn't give Richard enough depth to forgive his rotten judgment, his lack of individuality and absence of accountability. His languid voice-overs are peppered with unprofound video game allusions, and even when he becomes isolated from the colony and starts losing his mind, it's like watching him from behind safety glass. "The Beach" never reaches out beyond screen.

Having apparently compromised his ingenuity for commercial considerations, director Boyle approaches the action with periodically aimless, by-the-book filmmaking (save an awkwardly humorous scene in which Richard imagines himself the hero of a Nintendo game). Also, he blatantly pilfers scenes from "Apocalypse Now" and "The Deer Hunter" -- although Boyle would probably call these scenes homages shaped by Richard's pop-culture mind.

Most of the other characters are little more than scenery. Ledoyen is delicately alluring (and how!) but she serves no purpose other than to be an object of desire. As her boyfriend, Canet exists only as a bland obstacle to romance. But Tilda Swinton ("Conceiving Ada," "Orlando") lends the film a morsel of complexity as Sal, the community's peculiarly indifferent chieftain.

"The Beach" is an exercise in box office conformity. The acting, the photography, the chemistry between DiCaprio and Ledoyen, the something's-amiss atmosphere -- everything about the picture is adequate, but never anything more. Subsequently, one is left to wonder how it might have turned out if the budget-ballooning matinee idol hadn't signed on and Boyle had been left to his own devices instead of having to consider the lowest common denominator and the bottom line.

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