I had extremely low expectations going into this Leo vehicle and even they weren’t fulfilled.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Richard, an American vacationing in Thailand who is in search of more than the usual tourist traps. Drinking snake blood and being cooped up in his hotel room are not enough. He finds what he’s looking for in the drugged stupor of Daffy played by Robert Carlyle. Daffy slurs stories about a paradise free from tourists – a beautiful beach without the distractions of the modern world. Daffy quickly kills himself and does Richard the favor of leaving him the map to this hidden Garden of Eden. Richard invites a French couple, Etienne and Francois, to join him on his journey. (The same French couple he could hear humping through the thin walls of his room.) They reach the hidden island and soon find fields of marijuana. Hmmmm… not so bad, until they observe that it is guarded by greasy, gun-toting, foreign-speaking, badasses. After their escape they find the secret society of disenfranchised vacationers. They live off the land, eat fish, party all night, and screw whoever. Sounds like fun but it borders on a hippie commune, so for me, this would be hell. And all is not well in Eden. The island is run by the iron-fist of Sal (Tilda Swinton), however, she never quite rises to the level of an Ilsa, she wolf of the SS, which would have been interesting. Inevitably, Francois and Leo become involved and here is where the film breaks down – you can see every plot turn coming from a mile away. This is also where the film differs from the book in which the romance never occurs. Things get complicated when a couple of charming Swedes are munched to death by some sharks. Sal and Leo must go back to civilization to pick up much needed supplies like toothpaste and meat. You know, the more plot turns I reveal, the less interesting this whole thing becomes, like an episode of Baywatch without the boobs. The film becomes episodic without any real meaningful layers to the story to make it rise about TV movie level.
While Alex Garland’s 1996 book is a thoughtful social commentary (or so I’m told, since I haven’t read the book) the movie contains all of the cliché’s of mainstream Hollywood product. Director Danny Boyle who impressed audiences with “Shallow Grave” and “Transpotting” then hit a bump in the road with the uneven “A Life Less Ordinary” really seems out of his element in this very lightweight, mainstream Leo vehicle. Boyle attempts to inject some of the visual cleverness that he’s known for. In “Trainspotting”, it just seems natural that Ewan MacGregor would dive head first into a toilet to find his missing dope. In “The Beach”, DiCaprio goes nuts in the jungle and for a moment the movie turns into a pixelized video game, with Leo as the main game character. It’s funny, but not so much for this film. This bizarre visual device just seems odd – it’s totally out of place in this simple-minded tale.
Ultimately, “The Beach” is the film equivalent of eating one of those circular rice wafer things that taste like nothing. The only audience members liable to be sucked into this big budget TV movie are teenage girls in search of a Leo fix. If you are one of the unlucky men who winds up being dragged by curious women to see this awful turd, you should receive a medal of honor. And worse, while “Titanic” at least left one with the satisfaction that Leo dies in the end, the sad news is that he lives in “The Beach”. There, I hope I ruined it for you. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.