Originally created 12/30/04

At the Movies: 'Beyond the Sea'



Quick show of hands: Who wants to see Kevin Spacey singing and dancing for two hours as Bobby Darin?

Come on, people, he looks and sounds just like him!

Well, Kevin Spacey wanted to see Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin. That seems to be the entire point of "Beyond the Sea," in which he plays the crooner from his rise to music and movie popularity in the '60s, through his turn as a folk singer during the Vietnam War, and up to his death following open-heart surgery in 1973.

Spacey told The Associated Press earlier this year: "This wasn't about an actor's ego, wanting to get my rocks off by singing in a movie." But by functioning as director, co-writer and star, he's created a film that feels unshakably like a vanity project.

You have to admire Spacey for his enthusiasm, though, and for sharing the same unflappable sense of determination to get the film made as the character he's playing in the film itself.

And he's at least trying to do something different with the biopic structure - though it's strangely similar to the similarly painful Cole Porter movie "De-Lovely," which must have been a coincidence because they came out during the same year.

As in that earlier film, in which a dying Porter sits in a theater and watches his story unfurl onstage with an Archangel Gabriel figure next to him, "Beyond the Sea" begins with Darin making a fictional movie about his life, with a child version of himself (William Ullrich) guiding him through the highlights.

The structure is incredibly clunky, repeatedly drawing attention to itself and away from the key events in Darin's life we're supposed to care about. And Young Bobby shows up at really obvious emotional times (when Darin's mother dies, for example) as if we couldn't figure out for ourselves that these are the moments in which an adult feels like a scared, confused child.

Bobby's mother (Brenda Blethyn, doing a heavy Noo Yawk accent) was the one who pushed him into show business in the first place. Stricken with rheumatic fever as a child, he wasn't expected to live past 15, but his love of performing songs like "Mack the Knife" and the film's title tune somehow kept him alive until 37.

But Spacey, the "American Beauty" star, is 45 and looks it - a fact he acknowledges in the film early on by having Darin's brother-in-law (Bob Hoskins, wasted in a supporting role) bark, "It's a self-portrait on film! He was born to play the part and you damn well know it!"

His age becomes insurmountable, though, when Darin starts wooing 16-year-old Sandra Dee (the sunny Kate Bosworth) on the set of a movie they made together. In real life, Darin was eight years older than Dee. Also in real life, Spacey is 24 years older than Bosworth, which is more than a little creepy and makes their romantic scenes together nearly unbearable to watch, except for the train-wreck factor.

Things get a little more interesting when Sandy starts hitting the sauce, and she and Darin engage in jealous tiffs. Here's one of their made-for-TV-movie exchanges:

Bobby: "Don't you think you're drinking a little bit too much?"

Sandy: "No, actually I don't think I've had enough to drink."

Then "Beyond the Sea" becomes a different movie entirely once Darin quits wearing a toupee, moves into a trailer on the beach and turns his creative energy toward war protest songs. And Bob Dylan, he wasn't.

Clearly "Beyond the Sea" is for Darin devotees only, who will not only ignore this and other eviscerating reviews, but they'll probably already have seen Spacey on tour with a 19-piece big band, singing Darin's songs live.

"Beyond the Sea," a Lions Gate Films release, is rated PG-13 for some strong language and a scene of sensuality. Running time: 114 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.