The Beach - * 1/2*

After Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio had his pick of any role in Hollywood. He displayed courage by choosing a dark, offbeat project for his next starring role, The Beach. Unfortunately, The Beach is a washout, continuing the downward slide for director Danny Boyle (who briefly peaked with Trainspotting, and last made the negligible A Life Less Ordinary).

Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a moody American on extended vacation in Thailand. He is searching for something different…something perfect…and hasn’t found it yet. Yet, when a crazy neighbor (Robert Carlyle) in his fleabag hotel offers him a mysterious map to a beach “paradise”, Richard’s hopes begin anew.

He convinces two casual acquaintances, Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Étienne (Guillaume Canet) to accompany him on the trek, which proves more dangerous than the three initially expect.

But, they finally reach The Beach, where they discover a colony of travellers who are all sworn to protect the secret. Led by the easygoing, but authoritarian, Sal (Tilda Swinton), the colony is suspicious of the new arrivals. Will Richard and his friends reach eternal bliss, or will they discover paradise isn’t all it’s set up to be?

The setup for The Beach is intriguing, and the film actually proves to be interesting in its first hour. But, then, things go wrong…they go horribly wrong. The film veers into parody, and then into chaos, and never returns.

DiCaprio does give the role a fair shot, but even he can’t perform when he is literally digitized into a video game (an unusual device on the part of the director, but one that simply doesn’t work). By the time his role grows juicy enough for him to act, the film has already splintered into too many pieces to be salvagable.

Supporting performances from Tilda Swinton and Robert Carlyle are noteworthy, if brief. No one else in the international cast inspires much of anything. Even Étienne and Françoise, who initially appear as if they might stand out, find their roles fading into the jungle during the second half.

The most noteworthy thing in The Beach is director Boyle’s style, which, unfortunately, is never used to as good an effect as in his previous three films. Leo should have chosen better.

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