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Beyond the Sea

Kevin Spacey is Bobby Darin--mostly--in Beyond the Sea, the actor's long-dreamed-of biopic of the wildly popular singer of the '50s and '60s (though today he's not as revered and remembered as others like the Rat Pack). Idolizing Darin since he was a child, Spacey chose to direct the singer's life story himself, although choices like using his own very Darin-like singing voice throughout the film occasionally makes one wonder if Spacey is paying tribute to the icon or to himself.


With a diverse range extending from bubblegum early rock 'n' roll hits like ''Splish Splash'' to American pop standards like ''Mack the Knife'' to Vegas show-stoppers like ''Hello, Young Lovers'' to self-penned, war-protesting folk tunes like ''Simple Song of Freedom,'' Darin certainly has a compelling story arc, chasing fame and fortune from a young age because of a serious heart condition that makes an early demise inevitable. Darin manages to defy the fatal odds against him and emerges as a top-selling singing sensation and even an Oscar-nominated actor, while his hard-driving, never-say-die odyssey through celebrity includes romance with the gorgeous young matinee idol Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) and surprising revelations about his past. Yet, like the title of one of his hits, ''More,'' nothing ever seems to be enough for the singer, who must learn how to truly live in the midst of his seemingly packed life, until he finally succumbs to his heart disease at the age of 37.


We know what you're thinking: didn't Bobby Darin hit it big in his early 20s? How the heck, in his mid-forties, is even Mr. Two-Time-Oscar-Winner going to pull that off? Well, Spacey does and he doesn't. Sure, he's too old to be literally believed as the early Darin, but the film's clever framing sequence and fourth-wall-breaking techniques tell the story as though Darin is looking back at his life, and ''plugging in'' the more mature version of Spacey-as-Darin throughout--and it helps that Darin is not as recognizable an icon to today's audiences as, say, Elvis or Sinatra. With that nifty feat accomplished, Spacey is more than up to the task of capturing the singer's ''I want it all, yesterday'' temperament, as well as his distinctive vocals. Darin purists may have preferred that the film used the singer's actual tracks, but given that Spacey insisted on singing the songs himself, his vocal mimicry is as convincing as can be imagined. Bosworth (Win a Date With Tad

Hamilton) is as poodle-skirt-cute as Sandra Dee should be, and adds a nice touch of Hollywood actress insecurity as well. However, the vast age difference between Bosworth and Spacey is a tad creepy and their chemistry as both lovers and fighters doesn't really combust on screen. Supporting players Caroline Aaron and Bob Hoskins come close to stealing scenes even from the likes of Spacey--and that's as high a compliment as can be bestowed.


Even if you are a fan of Spacey or not, his cinematic execution, while not entirely razzle-dazzle in the non-musical sequences, is quite competent, making the most of the era's settings--especially old Hollywood and the lush lounge environs Darin prowled. Nods also go to the film conventions of the time. His deft direction, combined with his always-engrossing performance, manages to overcome and liven up the screenplay's often considerably lame dialogue. And those musical sequences! Whenever the story starts to meander, Spacey cleverly slides in a 50s-style song-and-dance number or swinging lounge lizard set to goose up the proceedings.

Bottom Line

While Beyond the Sea is probably one of the vainest vanity projects Hollywood's released in a while, it's also quite entertaining on many levels--as a chronicle of Darin's unique, too-short skyrocket ride through stardom, as a retro-style semi-musical and, of course, as a showcase for Spacey's always pitch-perfect acting and near pitch-perfect singing.