Drawn, lacquered, and just about as tanned as Goldmember, Madonna, in Swept Away, appears blowsy and middle-aged, and the hard character of experience does something for her. It allows her to leave vanity aside. (Either that, or her vanity now resides in her biceps, which are sinewy enough to strangle a panther.) Sound the trumpets: For the first time since ”Desperately Seeking Susan,” Madonna doesn’t suck as an actress. In a movie career that is by now nearly as benighted as that of Linda Blair or Maria Montez, she comes through with a performance in which her line readings don’t clatter like broken plates, and she looks at least half as relaxed as she does on stage.
It helps that she’s playing a spoiled, aristocratic pain — a rich bitch who needs to be taken down about nine notches. In her husband Guy Ritchie’s remake of the 1974 Lina Wertmüller screwball desert-island sex war, Amber (Madonna), a wealthy pharmaceutical heiress, ends up cast away with Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini), the hunky Italian first mate she’d abused and ridiculed like the lowliest of slaves. Since their survival depends on his handyman skills, he turns Amber into his slave, forcing her to call him ”master” and dominating her sexually. And wouldn’t you know…she likes it!
Set in the aquamarine Mediterranean, ”Swept Away” may be a fake art film, but Ritchie cuts down on the repetitive class-war shrillness of the original. He’s made a movie that never pretends to be more than a guilty pleasure of soft-core kitsch, and Madonna and Giannini (son of Giancarlo, costar of the original) achieve a lively S&M chemistry. Wertmüller’s film, like it or not, was one of the seminal pop fantasies of erotic incorrectness. In our own era, however, one of postfeminist consumer princesses and Maxim-ized alpha males, ”Swept Away” now looks about as subversive as ”Last Tango in the Blue Lagoon.”