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A movie only a mother could love

A review of Beyond the Sea (PG-13)

Kate Bosworth (as Sandra Dee) and Kevin Spacey (as - Bobby Darin) in Beyond the Sea.
  • Kate Bosworth (as Sandra Dee) and Kevin Spacey (as Bobby Darin) in Beyond the Sea.

Beyond the Sea (PG-13)
Lions Gate Films

It's finally here -- writer, director, singer, dancer, actor Kevin Spacey's film tribute to ... Kevin Spacey! Er, make that Bobby Darin.

Like the rest of this year's pop music icon biopic franchises, Beyond the Sea seeks to immortalize the life and songs of one of America's beloved musical figures, in this case the swingin' voice on legs from the Bronx, the meteoric showman who brought us hit after hit after hit until his untimely death at age 38 in the early 1970s.

Unlike the other films -- Ray honoring R & B giant Ray Charles, and De-Lovely depicting the genius and frailty of songwriter Cole Porter -- Beyond the Sea was written and directed by the actor who plays the lead role, and therein lies the difference.

Where Ray was certainly dominated by Jamie Foxx's star turn in the lead role, it also informed its audience of events in the performer's life that ultimately formed him, and did so artfully, developing the supporting characters as well as the main guy. And De-Lovely, though flawed by its stage fantasy structure, focused as much on the era and context of Porter's life as it did on Kevin Kline tinkling the ivories.

Beyond the Sea, also utilizing a musical fantasy structure, albeit unevenly, focuses on Darin's music and the bare-bones facts of his tragically short life, darting from sequence to sequence frantically to make way for the next big, splashy musical number, starring, you guessed it, Kevin Spacey.

To Spacey's credit, he can do it all. The singing is flawless Darin -- smooth and energetic. The dancing, while not quite as smooth, is impressive. The acting -- well, what's there to act? Spacey so idolizes Darin, except in one telling scene where the rising star throws a temper tantrum, that stepping into his shoes is about as difficult as looking into a mirror.

There's much to enjoy about Beyond the Sea, including Darin's overly confident swagger, especially in the scenes where he woos the young movie starlet Sandra Dee, played by perky Kate Bosworth. But Spacey-the-director's presence and Spacey-the-writer's imprint hang like an overheated spotlight over the entire project, allowing nothing and no one to exist in the shadows, discreetly, as in a real life lived by a real person. The supporting characters are props for Darin and little more, and that's a shame given the talented cast that includes Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn and John Goodman.

Anyone, like me, lucky enough to be on the mailing list of the ubiquitous AARP knows: a. that Spacey has crossed the threshold into middle age and b. that he developed Beyond the Sea at the urging of his dying mother. Hats off. There's no denying the huge lump in the throat inspired by the simple screen dedication offered at movie's end: To Mother. And hey, he almost pulls off looking like a teeny-bopper in the film's early scenes.

But there's something about Beyond the Sea that repeatedly begs, or brags: "Look Mom! I'm doing it!" That Darin was driven by a similar impulse doesn't make Spacey's approach any more effective.

What's effective are the songs themselves, gems that Spacey's generation and mine be-bopped to in our sock feet while our parents listened to the hi-fi, songs that still spice up the dreary lineup of oldies radio on a daily basis. They will be remembered. And Spacey will be remembered as a great Bobby Darin impersonator, but not as the writer or director who brought Darin to life for a generation of moviegoers.

-- Kathryn Eastburn


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