½*/**** Image A Sound B Extras B-
starring Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Shiri Appleby, Kate Burton
screenplay by Charles Bohl & Phillip Schneider
directed by John Polson
by Walter Chaw It's one thing to say that Swimfan is a boldly unoriginal rip-off of such gems as The Crush, Deadly Friend, Wicked, and Poison Ivy, but it's another, far more disturbing thing altogether to note that Swimfan travels the same inexplicable path of the moon-faced pork-pie Lolita so purposefully trundled by the likes of Alicia Silverstone, Kristy Swanson, Julia Stiles, and Drew Barrymore. Erika Christensen--memorably spacey as the troubled daughter in Soderbergh's Traffic--reveals herself in Swimfan as just the next completely interchangeable cherubic baby-fat starlet to try (or continue) to sully her ephemeral image in a role day-trippers might mistake for "edgy." Make no mistake, Swimfan may be many things, but it's about as edgy as Christensen's Romanesque elbow.
Ben (Jesse Bradford) is a star swimmer with a troubled past who PG-13 screws new girl Madison (Christensen) in a pool one night much to the eventual dismay of angelic (and brunette) girlfriend Amy (Shiri Appleby). More interesting than discussing a plot that relies a great deal on jump scares and the idea that Madison is a serial stalker--who poisons geriatric patients, spikes her boyfriend's urine with steroids, and murders cocky rivals (though in her defense, she does appear to dislike Vespas)--is to discuss what appears to be a cultural inclination (manifesting itself in teen thrillers) to demonize the round and the blonde while placing the thin and the dark-haired on proverbial pedestals. To that end, the picture allows no roadblock of logic, sense, or possibility to impede its dreadful course, laying out its treatise on the evils of being chubby and tow-headed with the kind of comfortable familiarity that never fails to sucker the more vacuous members of its target demographic.
With dialogue so deadening and repetitive that it takes on the cadence of MAD Magazine set to a Gregorian chant (Amy: "Don't worry, Ben, I know everything;" Ben: "You...you do?" Amy: "Yes, you're stressed out because of the big swim meet!"), the only thing to periodically remind us that Swimfan is in fact a motion picture is stock-actor-turned-hack-director John Polson's hilarious over-direction. Between stuttering cross-cutting, bad visual foreshadowing (that is better described as "visual sledge-hammering"), and a green colour filter that betrays poor Polson's desire to be David Fincher (or, closer, Joel Schumacher), Swimfan is a temple of disaster where the simple-minded bleat their obeisance--Enough for the babysitters' club.
At the end of the day, the most trenchant thing one can offer about a film this stupid is that most attempts at setting tragedy and (especially) infidelity in high school (see also: O and Cruel Intentions) are doomed to the unbearable lightness at the heart of the high school experience. It's impossible to muster the same kind of sociological worry for Jesse Bradford cheating on Shiri Appleby with Erika Christensen as Michael Douglas cuckolding Anne Archer with Glenn Close--this is less apples and oranges than apples and hammers. That Swimfan is clearly meant to be Fatal Attraction (from surprise home visit to the psycho's affection for classical music to car peril to aquatic epilogue) is a fact that should be a mystery only to people who have never seen Fatal Attraction--making me think that there is, after all, a method to all this teen-targeted madness.
by Bill Chambers Fox presents Swimfan, a film whose title begs for an exclamation point, in 2.31:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan image transfers on opposite sides of the same DVD. (See screenshot comparison above.) Though there's the smallest loss of shadow detail in dark shots, this is, in fact, a top-drawer telecine effort full of lush greens, blues, and Erika Christensens. Swimfan may not deserve to look this good (although it has perhaps the most fascinating subtext of any American movie from last year), but hey, welcome to the world of DVD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is surprisingly lightweight: Beyond piping ambience during a pivotal swim-meet and blasting a code-blue alarm at us from the rears, there's little to distinguish this track from a crisp stereo recording. Even LFE information is minimal.
Both sides of the disc open with a PSA cautioning against the evils of the drug Ecstasy and recycle a feature-length commentary with Australian director John Polson and stars Christensen and Jesse Bradford that's by and large more entertaining than Swimfan itself. Once again we discover that movies are directed twice nowadays--first by a human being, then by test audiences, although hearing how those changes mandated by the great unwashed were implemented to Swimfan is not nearly so aggravating as the fact that they were made at all, and a somewhat meticulous discussion of the trial-and-error process by which the filmmakers arrived at a revised ending for the picture is the enthusiastic, if self-aggrandizing yakker's highlight.
On side A only, Polson provides optional commentary for ten short deleted/extended scenes (in 4:3 letterbox), many of which were cut for being redundant; one has mixed emotions about the forsaking of a Fatal Attraction homage that initially played under the closing credits, since it let us know that Swimfan was in on its own joke. (Alas, the much-discussed original climax is not among these omissions.) Speaking of redundancies, side B of the DVD includes the featurette "Madison Belle @ The Girlfriend From Hell" (10 mins.), a plot recap courtesy of the talent in which Christensen gives us some insight into her characterization of Madison, though not enough to justify a viewing of this space-waster. A very cool trailer for Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later... rounds out the disc. Originally published: February 19, 2003.