THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Every so often, Hollywood remakes movies for the new generation of audiences. Older moviegoers will recognize that very popular films are being blatantly ripped off. To teenagers, though, they represent something new and unfamiliar. Swimfan is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It's clearly a retread of Fatal Attraction aimed at the junior high crowd. If you've seen the 1987 Michael Douglas/Glenn Close thriller, you will see every plot twist coming a mile away. Although there's not a shred of originality in the picture, I find it hard to be too critical because it's aimed squarely at a demographic for whom it will be suspenseful.

Jesse Bradford is stalked by the disturbed Erika Christensen in the thriller Swimfan
Jesse Bradford (Bring It On, Clockstoppers) plays Ben Cronin, a high school swimming star who is being courted by college scouts. When he's not in the pool, Ben spends a lot of time with girlfriend Amy (Shiri Appleby from TV's "Roswell"). One day, he meets a new girl in school: southern bombshell Madison Bell (Erika Christensen). Madison immediately begins coming on to Ben, and before long she has tempted him into a tryst in the deep end. Ben regrets cheating on Amy and tells Madison that he's not interested in her. She responds by stalking him, e-mailing him naked photos of herself, and ruining his chances of getting a scholarship. Madison even goes so far as to try to kill Amy.

Okay, you get the picture. Like I said - it's Fatal Attraction watered down for teenagers. I guess the main difference is that until it's hokey ending, Fatal Attraction was a smart movie that really explored the danger of casual affairs. Swimfan doesn't even try for any deeper meaning. It's not really a morality play or a cautionary tale. Basically, it's just a mindless thriller about a psycho chick terrorizing a swimmer.

There are certainly a lot of scenes here that are preposterous. For example, Ben works in a hospital where he dispenses medication to patients. A 17-year old kid handing out meds? Uh, hello, you need a licence to do that. Later on, we see Madison volunteering in the same hospital. Although she is theoretically on the lowest rung of the totem pole, she nevertheless walks around wearing a stethoscope around her neck. I wonder what she's planning on doing with it. I have not yet mentioned the way Madison visits Ben's house and steals his car keys so she can drive around all night. When he wakes up the next morning, the keys are back on the hook. What did she do - break in to return the keys?

Okay, so Swimfan is somewhat lacking on the IQ scale. What I can say in its favor is that the acting is really pretty good. Jesse Bradford hits all the right notes as the teenager who desperately wants to ditch this crazy girl. He's got the right mixture of adolescent innocence and arrogance. As good as he is, the movie really belongs to Erika Christensen, who made a splash playing the daughter of America's drug czar in Steven Soderberg's Traffic. She does a very effective job playing the unhinged Madison. What's interesting is that the screenplay never attempts to explain Madison's obvious mental illness. Christensen is so good in the role that I never really felt the need to have it explained to me; I just took it at face value that she was insane. It's clear that Christensen is a star in the making, so hopefully she'll choose more ambitious projects in the future.

First-time director John Polson uses some interesting editing tricks to suggest the inner emotions of the characters. He also keeps the pace quick. At a brisk 84 minutes, this is a no-frills thriller that basically only aims to give its teen audience a jolt of adrenaline.

Am I recommending Swimfan? Not quite. It may be a rip-off, but I don't think it's an awful one. It has a certain trashy appeal that kept me diverted. But the fact remains that there's a lack of imagination here. No bunnies get boiled, but otherwise the movie is a clone of a somewhat better story. If you're 16 or under, you might get a real charge out of Swimfan. Anyone over that age is likely to experience a crushing case of deja vu.

( 1/2 out of four)

Swimfan is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, disturbing images and language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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