Beyond the Sea
Written and directed by Kevin Spacey

Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth


Beyond the Sea

The point at which you realize what a misguided vanity project "Beyond the Sea" is comes early on when Kevin Spacey channels Bobby Darin's famous performance of the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht song "Mack the Knife." The song, as written, has both the sexiness and the menace of Mack's devastating criminal appeal in the lower depths of London's "Threepenny Opera" setting. But Darin's version breaks up every line, almost every word, syllable by syllable, until any meaning other than the rhythm of the beat is gone. It's the mark of a second-rate performer who doesn't understand the power of the words he's singing, and for a film of his life not to deal with that, in fact to insist instead that he was great, leaves us with nothing worthwhile to hold onto.

There's a lot more wrong with "Beyond the Sea" than that; Kevin Spacey is 45 and looks every bit of it, and the film is about a man who died in 1973 at the age of 37 after an almost twenty-year career. I don't necessarily mind older performers playing below their age - it is done all the time in opera, for the good reason that voices don't mature as early as bodies - but the intimacy of film, with its huge closeups, is not flattering to an actor, even one I admire as much as Mr. Spacey. Even if we put that aside, and note that Spacey is a very good singer (he performs all the songs himself) - though a bit klutzy as a hoofer - the film is just a very standard biopic, with little depth and no surprises. By the time the big reveal comes, late in the film - that Darin's 'sister' was in fact his mother and his 'mother' his grandmother - we've long since gone beyond it. (Think Jack Nicholson.)

Spacey, who directed and cowrote the film, has surrounded himself with fine actors - John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi - and Kate Bosworth plays his wife, Sandra Dee, with a power that goes beyond her looks. But his script hasn't given them much to work with; it's all, and always, about Spacey as Darin. We never get to know Sandra Dee, who had a career as busy as his, as anything other than a devoted wife and mother. (Even the end titles are smarmy: "Sandra Dee never remarried; she remains in love with Bobby Darin." Well, okay, but remember that it's more than thirty years since he died. Which leads to nasty speculation like this: Was there a provision in his will that if she remarried his estate would cut her off? And so what if it did? The point being that the film should not make us privy to an unsupported statement about someone's feelings thirty years after the film ends.)

Darin composed many songs; the only one that has real feeling to it is an antiwar song he composed near the end of his life; but Spacey presents it to us as a Vegas stage act, with thirty black singers dressed in gospel robes, stepping down a flight of stairs to the stage to back him up, clapping in time to the song. Please.