Posted: Monday, September 09, 2002

I didn't expect Swimfan, the hip, new, teen thriller, to be the movie-going experience of a lifetime. However, it looked like trashy fun, so I was kinda pumped about seeing it. I should have recognized the signs, (didn't Mel Gibson teach me anything?) and saved my money.

First of all, we were late getting to the theater, which I hate. Going to the movies for me involves much more than simply watching the feature. First there is the ticket purchase and the friendly banter with the kid in the box office. Then there is the lazy perusal of the candy counter to hide the fact that you are sneaking lower priced snacks in. This is followed by the quick walk to the actual auditorium, anticipation of the show to come building by steps. You pick your seats, then scan the auditorium to see if there was any better ones elsewhere. You wade through the commercials for Coke, the Army, and the latest Chevy truck, and then . . . the previews. That giant green screen has a special place in the heart of every true moviegoer. Charlie Brown said the secret of happiness is having three things to look forward to and nothing to regret. That is the coming attractions in a nutshell. He also said that the secret of happiness is a warm puppy, but they don't usually let you bring pets into the theater so it doesn't really apply. Then, finally, when the previews are over, the feature presentation. All this requires getting to the theater a good ten to twelve minutes early, a goal easily destroyed by a surprise trip to Gottschalk's.

Once we did actually get to the theater and into the movie, the screen was still half covered with the curtain, giving the opening credits a strange ripply, underwater look. Even though the title is Swimfan, I didn't think this was the producers desired effect. I popped back out to the front to alert the kids behind the counter - looking longingly at the concession stand, as I had, in my haste, left my contraband in the car. They gave me the rolled eyes affirmative which means either, "Yes sir, we'll fix that ASAP" or "God, don't you have a life? We'll get to it when we get to it." I'm betting on the latter.

Just about the time the curtain returned to its appropriate position, I hear the distinctive sounds of Ode to Joy beeping behind me. It's always embarrassing to have your cellphone go off in the movies, but any empathy your fellow audience members may have had goes out the window when you actually start having a conversation! "Hi. Yeah. No, I'm in the movie. Yeah. Swimfan. Uh huh. So what are you guys doing? Really? Wow. No, I'm sure I'm not disturbing everyone around me by breaking one of the most universally understood etiquette rules in the world. Yeah. So I guess I'm meeting you guys at the Back Door later? Around 7:00? Cool. Later!" This happened twice. A little hint: I paid to see a teenybopper version of Fatal Attraction, not to hear about your evening plans. Take it outside.

Speaking of Swimfan, we eventually did get to start paying attention to the movie. It's the story of supercool high school swimming champ Ben Cronin, who cheats on sweet girlfriend Amy with new-in-town hottie Madison Bell, only to regret his transgression in more ways than one. He tries to break it off and ends up paying the ultimate price in movie justice, which is having your on-the-side turn into a psychotic Glenn Close. This movie is the pinnacle of typical, stealing all its themes from better (and worse) movies. It did have some interesting camera angles for a while, but then even that got irritating. Jesse Bradford, as Ben, is good looking enough to play the teen heartthrob, but he's got a ways to go before he can be convincing as anything else. Erika Christensen, who was excellent as the drug-addled good girl from Traffic, does little more than alternate between menacing glares and shy, "who me?" smiles. There's not a whole lot wrong with Swimfan, there's just not a whole lot right either.

At least it was short. An hour and twenty-five minutes in which we endured another cellphone call and an aggravating three minute mis-frame that had poor Ben Cronin begging forgiveness from the top edge of the screen. If all this wasn't enough to let me know that Swimfan shouldn't have been my movie of choice, there was a message from my father waiting for me on the answering machine when I got home. "Hey! This is El Paso. (My parents always identify where they are calling from as if there's a chance they may have packed up and left town in the week since I last talked to them.) I just saw one of the best movies I've seen in years. It's called City By The Sea and DeNiro is excellent!" If only I'd taken my cell into the theater. Grade: C-

Swimfan is rated PG-13 for sexual situations and violence.

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