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Beyond The Sea (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: N/A

BOBBY Darin lived a short but remarkable life. By the end of his brief, 14-year career, he'd had more hits in more genres of music than any recording artist except Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, as well as being nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar during his time in the movies.

His appetite for success was insatiable and driven by the knowledge that he was living on borrowed time.

At the age of seven, Darin caught rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart for life, and doctors predicted that he wouldn't live beyond the age of 16. He died at 37.

Beyond The Sea, the film inspired by Darin's success story, is a beautifully-acted, and keenly directed labour of love for Kevin Spacey, who not only stars as Darin, but sings, dances, directs and produces to boot.

It is the sort of role that seems tailor-made to appeal to the Oscar voters' sensibilities and which confirms Spacey as one of the brightest all-round talents of his generation - yet as enjoyable as the film is, there is the nagging feeling that something is missing.

Undoubtedly, this is the film that Darin would have made about himself, were he still alive to make it. It is a tribute viewed through rose-tinted specs, that only briefly taps into the darker side of Darin's celebrity.

And by posting a post-script notice at the end of the movie, which admits that this is by no means the definitive version of Darin's life story, but one which relies on the saying that 'dreams are like moonbeams', viewers may tend to feel that Spacey is providing himself with a 'get out of jail' card for any would-be critics.

That said, there is still plenty to admire and fans of Spacey, in particular, will hail it as another personal tour-de-force from the star.

He sets about playing Darin with unbridled enthusiasm, taking viewers through the greatest hits of Darin's life, from his rise from tacky nightclubs to Vegas and the Copacabana, through to his stint in the movies, his biggest successes (Beyond The Sea and Mack The Knife), his dabbling in politics, and his battle with ill-health and self disillusionment.

He also adopts a non-linear approach to the story-telling which helps to keep viewers on their toes - mixing childhood memories with those from his later life - and tells it from Darin's own retrospective (much like the recent Cole Porter epic, De-Lovely).

And he intersperses proceedings with some genuinely lively song and dance routines, that not only provide a fitting showcase for Spacey's terrific singing voice, but for some wonderfully inventive choreography as well.

Yet for all of its successes, there are some notable failures mixed in. Kate Bosworth, as Darin's wife, Sandra Dee, lacks the presence to make her scenes with Spacey carry much emotional clout, while the age gap between them seems awkward and only serves to emphasise the lack of chemistry.

And the legendary temper that Spacey alludes to at the beginning of the movie is only revisited in flashes, making Darin appear much more of a likeable egotist than he probably was.

When compared to other biopics doing the rounds at the moment, it is undoubtedly better than De-Lovely, but not quite on a par with Ray (which looks set to become the standard-bearer for this season), and might possibly suffer as a result.

But for anyone willing to forgive the film its excesses, there is plenty to admire, not least in Spacey's devotion to the project, and some of the peformances from his excellent support cast, including Bob Hoskins, as a father-figure, and John Goodman, as his best friend and manager.

What's more, the conclusion carries a genuinely affecting emotional resonance, made all the more memorable by Spacey's masterly performance as Darin. If nothing else, the film is worth seeing for that alone.

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