Obsession. Betrayal. Revenge. Some girls have all the fun.
Directed by: John Polson
Running Length: 85 minutes
Obsession. Betrayal. Revenge. The tagline for Swimfan might be more appropriate in describing another movie. There are different words that would more accurately capture yet another teen movie to descend upon theaters like a swarm of locusts. Perhaps we’ll come to a few of them as we go. At best, Swimfan is a mildly amusing guessing game as to what the next plot twist might be. At worst, it is an anticlimactic and slightly misogynistic picture whose script clumsily handles material that, in some boardroom somewhere, probably seemed thrilling and titillating.
High school senior Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford, who looks all of his 23 years of age) is a top-notch swimmer with a lot on his mind. The Stanford scouts are coming to his next meet to see him swim, and, despite considerable talent, he’s going to have to work hard to be ready. His longtime girlfriend, Amy (Shiri Appleby, also looking 23, most likely because she actually is) is worried about being thousands of miles away from him next year when they both go to college. Otherwise, he’s happy, healthy, and enjoys life, as might be expected for anyone fortunate enough to be screwing Shiri Appleby with any regularity. He enjoys healthy competition with his teammates on the swim team, and he enjoys his job at the local hospital.
However, Ben has a flaw, which his mother points out unsubtly in the opening moments of the film: Ben is a pushover. Unfortunately for Ben, his mother never followed up this astute and crucial observation by telling him to be careful what he does, and not to go around breaking young girls’ hearts. Seriously people, Billie Jean spent 7 weeks at the top of the charts in 1982. Turn on the radio once in a while, and you just might avert tragedy.
This flaw is ripe for the exploiting, and luckily for Fox, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen, who actually is a teenager) shows up at school. Madison, a fox in her own right, wants Ben very badly, and uses her considerable arsenal of wily and subtle female tricks to maneuver herself into his life. Either she’s particularly successful, or Ben is remarkably stupid. Either way, soon Ben is maneuvering himself into her underpants.
After this picturesque bit of amphibious adventure, Ben thinks back. Isn’t his girlfriend adorable and loving? Didn’t Erika Christensen also play the drug addict girl in Traffic? Perhaps he ought to reevaluate which one he wants to spend his quality time with. While he attempts to convince Madison that she’s just a girl who claims that he is the one, she’s planning revenge, and she doesn’t intend to play nice.
Unfortunately for the viewer, the methods she plans for getting revenge are almost all in the preview to the movie, and they aren’t nearly as fun to watch as they could be. Erika Christensen’s leaden psycho act gets a bit tiring after an hour or so, and the finale is more predictable than the average Cleveland Browns home game.
While never as funny as the comments the audience so generously shared during the course of the film, the script did manage to be somewhat genuine at times. Conversations and banter shared by Ben and Amy throughout the film were eerily reminiscent of actual things people might say in real life, an accomplishment for this type of film. Taking full advantage of her lack of ridiculous lines, Shiri Appleby sparkled onscreen, and not just visually. One wonders what she might be able to achieve, given the opportunity to tackle a role where she actually plays an adult.
Director John Polson has some good ideas scattered throughout Swimfan, but not nearly enough. The nighttime pool scene hits exactly the right note of sensuous tension. The technique of intercutting various takes of a close-up quickly to show distress, used several times in the latter part of the film, was an effective, if MTV-esque way of giving the (sometimes struggling) actors a bit of a crutch. The tight control of focus in certain situations created tension by forcing the audience to strain to see what Polson wasn’t quite prepared to show them yet. All in all, though, direction is par for the teen movie course.
As might be expected, another movie has come and gone without a realistic depiction of computer use. Instant messaging and e-mail both took place through some sort of crazy web-based system. As usual, though, this had nothing to do with the movie, and the depiction of online stalking was appropriately annoying.
This brings me to the interesting online marketing tactics employed for this picture. Around the time the movie came out, if you were particularly lonely, you could add Swimfan4u to your buddy list and chat up Madison Bell virtually.
All in all, Swimfan is pretty similar to a story you heard at lunch in high school. The pacing is all wrong, the story is clearly exaggerated, and you’ll probably forget about it by the time you get to your next class. What was so good about high school, anyhow?