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Introduction
At some time, somehow, to someone in the position to greenlight a movie, Swimfan must have sounded like a good idea. A loose take on Fatal Attraction, as Norville Barnes from The Hudsucker Proxy may once have said, “Y’know, for kids.” A hip young cast, a thumping contemporary rock soundtrack, the illicit promise of adulterous naughtiness during those troubled teenage years; it can’t fail. Can it?

Swimfan
Movie
High-school student Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford) has it all. A lot of friends, an adoring (not to mention adorable) girlfriend Amy (Shiri Appleby) and a swimming career that could just be headed for the Olympics if he impresses the scouts heading from the prestigious Stanford university to see him compete.

Enter Madison Bell (Erika Christensen), a new student in school. After aiding the damsel in distress by jimmying open her locker with the speed and panache seemingly the preserve of American teen movie characters, Ben becomes intrigued by this aloof, not to mention unconventional, girl. Then, after nearly running her over and returning her notebook following a lift back to her house, Ben finds himself drawn in by the shapely student which results in a spot of aquatic hanky-panky in the swimming pool.

So far so good. Well, for Ben at least. However, Madison is a girl who just can’t take ‘no’ for an answer and when Ben tries to give her the brush off (“there is no ‘us’, don’t you understand?”) the cello-playing freshman gets more than a little irate. What begins as innocent visits to Ben’s mother and 85 email messages a day turns peculiar and results in Amy finding out.

This is the least of Ben’s problems; he is prevented from swimming before the Stanford scouts after anabolic steroids are administered to his sporting sample, a patient is given an overdose at the hospital where he has a part time job, and his pool dwelling partners wind up sleeping with the fishes. With the police taking a keen interest in his activities, Ben is under pressure to uncover Madison’s dark secret and protect Amy’s life in the hope that she’ll live long enough to accept him back…

If you’re thinking that the above sounds all too familiar, in movie terms at least, then you’d be right. It’s an uninspired, insipid and asinine Fatal Attraction clone that forgets, or rather is unable, to recreate all the clever components that made that film such an unqualified success. Trying to introduce a psychological dimension into a drama 82 minutes long with teens being portrayed by actors clearly far too old for their respective roles is not a good start.

Swimfan
The film is in further trouble when considering the cast. Christensen is a clearly gifted performer (Traffic can testify to that) in the most important role suffering from a threadbare script which accounts for the turn of Shiri Appleby too who has time only to look adoring and pained as the particular scene dictates before all the screaming starts in the final reel. No such excuse can be offered on the part of Jesse Bradford who has all the irritating smug expressive range of a brick; Freddie Prinze Jr.’s crown as Hollywood’s most unbelievably bland leading man is surprisingly under threat.

The script doesn’t just short-change the actors, there are some glaringly obvious structural flaws that a few decent re-writes may have saved. With the nookie all over and done with inside the opening 14 minutes, there’s a gaping hole for the following 20 minutes in which characters hang around waiting for Madison to have her funny turn.

All of these elements are not marshalled into any sort of cohesive whole by Aussie actor turned director John Polson who, in fact, compounds the road accident of a script with some directorial flourishes that are frankly laughable. Instead of letting Christensen build to her big moment, Polson resorts to jump cuts as a method of demonstrating Madison’s fractured personality. Glenn Close relied on her innate acting ability and didn’t require any such obvious and distracting gimmickry to make her character simultaneously pathological and pathetic; neither does Christensen.

This central howler is followed up by a couple of other clangers. One involves a momentary desaturation of the film stock in an effort, one can only assume, to make apparent Ben’s increasingly defensive nature after the indiscretion is out in the open; the other is a lamentably ludicrous use of a reverse zoom dolly for a character’s epiphany that puts even the ham fisted usage of the device in Godzilla to shame.

How Polson the actor fares in front of the camera I’ve no idea and I’ve no inclination to find out, his efforts in the director’s chair making this low budget independent movie indistinguishable from the prefabricated adolescent pap churned out by the big studios year on year which is perhaps the biggest criticism I can make of this movie.

Swimfan
Video
The image provided, anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 2.35:1, is decent enough. Colours are pretty stable throughout with no bleeding or smearing, the transfer coping well with flesh tones under the strong blue filters in the pool sequences and the desaturation effects employed in the second half of the movie.

Black levels and shadow detail are very impressive indeed, as evidenced in the night-time nookie between Ben and Madison, an illustration of a transfer way in excess as to what the material deserves.

Audio
A single Dolby Digital 5.1 track is provided and, to be fair, isn’t given too much of a workout. Very little of the action in the movie necessitates directional effects and therefore most of the audio is concentrated at the front of the soundstage. That said, the channel separation that is required is rendered well enough and the stultifying dialogue is always high enough in the mix to be perfectly distinct.

Extras
To start off the extras selection is an Audio Commentary from director John Polson with his two leads Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen. These three are certainly not short of a thing or two to say about the production and each respective participation in it. In fact, it’s quite humorous to hear Polson as the unfortunate ‘groovy’ teacher trying to rein in his exuberant high-school co-contributors so he can get a word in edgeways. This is no small mercy as every input from Polson runs along exactly the same lines: “what was great in this scene was that this was a great location, x gave a great performance, y did a great job with the lighting, z made some great edits” and so on. After 30 minutes of this I would challenge anyone who did not, like me, feel the desire to staple Polson’s tongue to a table with a croquet hoop for the lack of something significantly interesting to say. Perhaps it’s no wonder that such a banal and derivative film came from a director of such stock.

That said, Bradford and Christensen are consistently good value for the commentary. The former displays so much more perception about film and acting than his performance would suggest while the latter can’t fail to gush at “genius” points of the script which are such basic tenets of acceptable writing that one really must worry about the state of her future career if her script choices aren’t a whole lot more circumspect than this.

Swimfan
Intriguing nuggets, though few and far between, can be found, including wholesale support for the jump cuts to exacerbate Madison’s fractured personality as mention above and the budgetary constraints that prompted a 36 day shoot with some very long working nights for all concerned.

To accompany points raised in the commentary is a non-anamorphic showcase of Deleted And Extended Scenes lasting for around 12 minutes, each section with an optional commentary from Polson. Of course, listening to Polson, every scene is just “great”, they were cut purely for reasons of narrative and budgetary time constraints. Glaringly, several of these excised scenes commit a couple of cardinal scriptwriting sins, including overt vocalising of the film’s main theme and Polson is either unwilling to point these out or oblivious to them. There is one particular sequence that even more shamelessly rips of its Fatal Attraction inspiration that raises a genuine laugh and it’s sad that this wasn’t incorporated into the finished film.

Next up comes a ’Girlfriend From Hell’ Featurette with a 10 minute duration. Delivered in fullscreen, this is essentially a selection of film clips and interview snippets from the cast, director and producer (funny how the scriptwriters yet again seem to be absent) discussing the provenance, nature and limits of the Madison Bell character. Worth watching once, if only to see how almost everyone attempts to excuse the Ben Cronin character from any blame at all.

A couple of TV Spots are also here, one lasting 20 seconds with the other just 10 seconds. Both make it absolutely plain what the movie is about so the prospective audience will be left in no doubt as to what to expect.

A 30 second Radio Spot provides a companion piece to the above with gravelly voiceover man making his first vocal appearance, interspersed with predictable expository dialogue from the movie.

Finally there’s a Theatrical Trailer here too. Roughly 2 minutes long, voiceover man crops up again to narrate in the time honoured husky tone as the admittedly slickly edited piece succinctly establishes the trio of leads before going ape in the final 30 seconds in an effort to demonstrate just how bonkers the antagonist will become.

All of the special feature options can be accessed by a series of menus with animated introductions which incorporate key scenes from the film and loops of the score.

Swimfan
Overall
Alas, not quite falling into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category of teen movies, Swimfan is just plain bad. Shiri Appleby and Erika Christensen clearly have the potential to rise above such trite material and one would hope that they’ll have plenty of chances in the future. Until then, this movie will sit uncomfortably at the head of their respective CVs.

While 20th Century Fox have made a technically above average disc with some handy special features for a production with such a small budget, and you might get a giggle or two when viewing as a rental on a Friday night after a few cold ones, I’d suggest you be very wary before picking this one up.


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