Kevin Spacey says he's wanted to star in a movie about singer Bobby Darin for years. (Darin died at 37. Spacey is 45.) In Beyond the Sea, Spacey gets to play charming and pushy and romantic and troubled. He gets to impersonate a real person, make dramatic speeches, sing and dance. The role could be a tour de force or an opportunity to chew scenery down to the floor. Spacey is probably still be spitting out carpet tacks.
Beyond the Sea mixes reality and fantasy in some quirky, interesting ways, but overall, you get the feeling that Spacey is just happy he got to play Darin. If anyone actually wants to watch the movie, it's gravy.
Bobby Darin was a 1950s pop star with a few hits (the movie's title, Splish Splash, and Mack the Knife). He married a bigger star than himself (actress Sandra Dee), even though he wasn't the handsomest guy. In 50 years, if someone wants to make a movie like Beyond the Sea, it might be about Marc Anthony.
Beyond the Sea starts with the premise of a movie within a movie. Bobby Darin is at the end of his career, making a movie about his own life. That would help explain why Darin looks 20 years too old for the first half of the movie, but the idea comes and goes as it suits Spacey the (credited) screenwriter and Spacey the actor.
To make it more confused, the kid who plays "Little Bobby" in the movie is also supposed to be the "real" young Bobby, come from the past to help old Bobby (Spacey) look back at his life. It's easier to bear if you stop trying to make sense of it.
What's intriguing about Beyond the Sea is how it subtly mocks 1950s movie musicals while relishing those same cheesy moments. Sets look too much like sets and characters break into clunky choreography, cavorting down European cobblestones in pointy-toe boots. It's a spot-on recapturing of a style of movie that fell out of fashion decades ago. It's fun to watch for a while, but there's a reason why it went away.
Beyond the Sea chooses grand statements over little moments. In one scene, Darin lays a sword between Dee (Kate Bosworth) and himself on their honeymoon bed, promising, like a knight, to never cross over without her permission. If that ever actually happened, Darin was one weird bird. The fact that Spacey looks more like Bosworth's dad than hubby doesn't help.
Spacey's performance is that of a guy giving his all. He imitates Darin's singing reasonably well and dances like a singer who really wants to dance. Spacey's Darin is a guy who's driven to succeed and be the best at whatever he does. You can see Spacey working hard. Energy is pumping out of him like a guy who finally gets to make the movie he wants to make, but he never stops being Kevin Spacey playing Bobby Darin dress-up.
Brenda Blethyn is cute in her few scenes as Bobby's vaudeville mother and Caroline Aaron gets to bray and cry as Bobby's blue-collar sister. Bosworth's Sandra Dee is an underwritten role, glossing over Dee's alcohol problem. Even Dee and Darin's divorce is left out.
John Goodman plays Darin's manager as another in a string of loud, rude fat guy roles. Brit Bob Hoskins plays another bearish American. This time, it's Darin's brother-in-law.
At about two hours, Beyond the Sea is at least 20 minutes too long. It might have made a diverting TV biopic for VH1, but Beyond the Sea's appealing stylistic quirks can't lift it beyond a movie that Kevin Spacey will always treasure and puzzle the rest of us.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun