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Pecs on the Beach: Leonardo DiCaprio encounters trouble in paradise in 'The Beach.'

Leonardo Beached

Postcard views can't save DiCaprio in deserted-island downer

By Richard von Busack

ALEX GARLAND'S FIRST NOVEL, The Beach, was indeed beach reading--plenty of violence, abject moral simplicity and obvious derivations from Lord of the Flies and several screenplays, particularly The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. The film version has been cleared up and cheered up by screenwriter John Hodge, which is an advantage--it's smoother, pleasanter trash now.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Richard, who receives a map to an uncharted island from a raving mad denizen (Robert Carlyle) of a backpacker hotel in Bangkok. He and two friends head out for the island and find it a paradise, where an apolitical commune lives well like beachcombers. But the moral of Garland's story is that man defiles every paradise he enters--haven't we had enough of that moral?--and soon enough trouble brews. First unwelcome guests arrive, and then native, heavily armed marijuana farmers show up to protest.

The postcardy views will probably draw more tourists to Thailand, just what the country needs. DiCaprio, however, is going to disappoint his teenage fans by his performance as a cowardly, recessive and easily manipulated character who goes barking mad in near-record time. (In the book, Richard was, it was implied, disturbed; here his behavior seems like instant lunacy.) The insolent good looks and the Eddie Munster eyebrows may set young girls pining, but DiCaprio seems to me now what he's always been: an artsy, minor lead with all of Jack Nicholson's mannerisms and little of his charisma. Tilda Swinton, who co-stars, is the lounging dictator of the camp. Though she's cool and emotionless, she doesn't have the manipulative qualities of a real leader, and how she got control of the commune is one of the many questions neither the book nor the film answers. And the happy ending here looks preposterous. In one courtship scene, Richard talks about a parallel universe where everything is just like it is here, only slightly different. Maybe in that universe, The Beach is actually a good movie.

The Beach (R; 118 min.), directed by Danny Boyle, written by John Hodge, based on the book by Alex Garland and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the February 10-16, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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