The post-Titanic Mr. DiCaprio is as precious to Hollywood interests as fire was to the cave man. The magazines have elevated him to glossy sainthood. The great unwashed have taken to calling him Leo (geez, one word, like Fabian, Barbara or Madonna). Why, just last week a tabloid announced: "Leo Is An Environmentalist." Frighteningly, someone actually cared. You see, The Beach is the kind of movie that gets made after the media drops its latest produit celebre in the grinder. One can only sit back and wait for the parade to pass.
Then, in a decade or so, watch for the movie star to do the public unction thing. Like Janie reflecting back on Barbarella, Leo will ask, "What was I thinking ?" And in the same breath that he thus betrays his youth, he will announce his artistic collaboration with a Czechoslovakian director whose films regularly play on the Bravo channel. There'll be talk of a comeback. Voila! A ripened Leo (now called Leonardo by the cognoscenti) wins the Oscar, thus saving himself the embarrassment of having to wait until his doddering years when, helped on stage by a white-haired wife in a pink sequinned dress, the Academy gives him a lifetime achievement statuette.
Until then, we have The Beach and its ilk to deal with. And oddly, when placed in such historical perspective, the random banalities of this curiosity piece seem somehow easier to take. Certainly the pretentious babble about mankind's inability to reside in an earthly Eden (don't worry, Adam and Eve's names have been changed to protect the originally guilty) once again proves that rather poor films can still be watchable. Well, almost.
Borrowing snippets and bits of ideas from a broad spectrum of pop philosophy as well as several real movies, The Beach is a feature-length buzzword. And as Richard, the EveryGeneration X-er on a date with destiny, DiCaprio is to be commended for surviving the tritest dialogue you're apt to hear at the cinema this year. However, we are tempted not to forgive him when, as narrator, he opines: "Desire is desire. Bleach won't wipe it out. Waves won't wash it away."
Nonetheless, Richard, travelling with recent French acquaintances Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne (Guillaume Canet), the other two sides of a love triangle just waiting to happen, does find his supposed paradise off the coast of Thailand. And while the whole set-up is actually a Yuppie variation on Lord Of The Flies, the island social structure and the international assortment of bacchanals residing therein are not completely uninteresting. Tilda Swinton as Sal, the acknowledged leader of the beach community, gives the impression that since she couldn't be a monarch back in Merry Olde England, she has settled for being the queen bee here. Ooh, but watch out. She has an eye for Richard. And her boyfriend, Bugs (Lars Arentz-Hansen), sure has a rotten temper.
Paradise consists of unlimited fields of marijuana, pristine lagoons for fishing and a commune-like sex orientation that makes the Sixties look like the Gilded Age. But the honeymoon is brief. Earlier in the odyssey, director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) tips his hand. Like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, the helmer can't seem to resist a bit of sophomoric foreshadowing.
First, Richard stops in at a theatre showing Apocalypse Now. And just a bit later, a lunatic appropriately named Daffy (Robert Carlyle) turns him on to the island, telling of its pleasures as well as its mystically inescapable, and equally unexplainable, downside. All the while, this Scottish Cassandra is doing the unabridged, Willem Dafoe crazy man bit. You know: "I've been there, man...I've experienced things no man should see, man." And then he gives Richard the secret map anyway. Some pal. Fast forward and past misjudgements come to visit Richard. Fool. Back in Thailand Mr. Nice Guy showed some surfers the map. That's against Paradise by-laws, you know. Matters inevitably go bad, and the film becomes irreparably haunted with Neo-Vietcong characters and Conradian auras of doom.
It is at this point when you figure the movie can't get any more inane. You're right. Instead it just turns completely absurd. Richard starts play-acting at being a guerrilla-ascetic, mischievously sneaking into the tents of the militaristic marijuana farmers who occupy the other half of the island; the video game graphics that illustrate his Vietnam War fantasy are rather nifty. Pity, it's the film's only bit of creativity. And odds are, unless you're a die-hard Leo fan you'll be wanting to close your umbrellas and leave The Beach long before that one wave of artistry washes ashore.