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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
at the Vaudeville

FOLLOW THE LEADER
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Christian Slater/PH: Johan Persson


Hollywood and its machinations have always been an easy target for novels, plays and films. From Kaufman and Hart's Once in A Lifetime, Clifford Odets' The Big Knife, Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful and Budd Shulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? to David Rabe's Hurlyburly and David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, the inner workings of the movie industry are clearly as compulsive to the folk who write and direct these incestuous self-serving immorality tales as they are to the millions of us who watch them.

Swimming with Sharks, adapted by Michael Lesslie from George Huang's 1994 screenplay is just such an entertainment, but somewhat more far-fetched than the examples cited above.

Into the murky , shark-infested waters of senior executive vice president Buddy Ackerman (Christian Slater) swims a rookie would-be screenwriter called Guy (Matt Smith) who willingly takes on the job of Ackerman's general dogsbody in the hope that it will lead to bigger, better things.

Humiliation and verbal-abuse are all part of the menial job, but it isn't too long before Guy's milk-teeth soon grow as sharp and as deadly as those of his boss.

In no time at all Guy not only finds himself working in cahoots with independent producer Dawn Lockhart (Helen Baxendale), whose latest project - Afghan Incident- is rejected by Ackerman as too uncommercial for his target audience, he falls in love with her.

To complicate matters further, the head of the studio has decided to upgrade the shlock-horror pics Ackerman has been making, to films with more intellectual content and uplift.

Ackerman has little choice, now, but to back-track on Afghan Incident, and persuades Guy to sweet-talk Dawn into letting him handle the property rather than the rival she has taken it to. Promising his young assistant fame and glory, and even suggesting he re-write certain parts of the screenplay himself, Ackerman intends, ultimately, to take all the kudos for himself - a fact Guy soon realises.

It's at this point in the narrative that he sets out to exact a rather terrible revenge on his employer. And with a touch of Grand Guignol involving masking tape and office staples, he does just that.

Given what a decent, normal young man Guy has always appeared to be, his transformation into a ruthless sadist is hard to accept - though not as hard to accept as the final twist which reduces what should have been a hard-hitting satire on the way Hollywood conducts its business to the level of Ackerman's own schlock-horror movies. Of course, this may have been the intention all along - but if so it simply does not work.

Though Christian Slater's lacks the various layers and nuances his scereen counterpart, Kevin Spacey, brought to the role -and is altogether too one-dimensional to be a convincingly repellent human being, his showy, unsubtle command of the stage will certainly please his fans.

As Guy, Matt Smith also needs to find more complexity in his performance. Not for one moment does his romance with an undercast Helen Baxendale ring true. With so many other lacerating tales of Hollywood still active in the memory, this one, clunkily directed by Wilson Milam in an all-purpose set by Dick Bird ,is all gums and no teeth.

 


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