Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:25 - Released 9/6/02

John Polson's high-school thriller Swimfan, the story of an aspiring swimmer stalked by a psychotic female after a shared sexual indiscretion, is not a terribly bad product for such an inexperienced creative team...but I liked it better when it was called Fatal Attraction. (Sorry, couldn't resist going into the David Spade impersonation there.) The team writing effort of relative newbies Charles F. Bohl and Phillip Schneider, the movie parallels Adrian Lyne's now-classic 1987 Glenn Close/Michael Douglas vehicle so closely, it's almost like a younger, less-sexy, less mature remake rather than a really new idea. Director Polson, the Australian-born founder of the annual Sydney-based short film festival "Tropfest," has only directed one feature film so far, a wacky comedy called Siam Sunset which was never released in the U.S. His first film to reach the American audience is not without its artistry and features adequate performances from its stars, Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen, but one can tell he's dumbed down his product for the intended market. The Bohl/Schneider screenplay doesn't really call for any major work from its good-looking stars other than, well, looking good. And that they do.

New Jersey high school senior and swim team star Ben Cronin (Bradford) once again has a bright future after a troubled early adolescence. Having discovered the sport at the detention center where he served time for petty theft and drug abuse, he was able to kick the habit and get his act together, and has become so good that he's being scouted by Stanford University. In fact, his girlfriend Amy (Shiri Appleby) is so sure he'll get a scholarship, she's already planning their move to California. But Ben's life changes when he meets transfer student Madison Bell (Christensen), a pretty senior who asks for his help getting her stubborn locker open. He takes her home, thinking their acquaintance will end there. But he runs into her again (literally), and they end up having lunch together, followed by a trip to the school's pool, where a good-natured impromptu swim lesson turns into a steamy sexual coupling. Feeling awkward and guilty, Ben tells Madison that he has a girlfriend and has no intention of getting serious, but that they can remain friends. This seems adequate, but then she starts showing up everywhere he goes, repeatedly calling his cell phone, and sending him multiple emails (using the name "Swimfan85.") implying that she wants their relationship to develop into something more. When he tries to reiterate his desire to remain "just friends," Madison turns ugly, resorting to more and more malicious means (including murder) to get him to leave Amy for her.

Erika Christensen showed the world her acting talent with her small but important part in Steven Soderbergh's multiple-award-winning 2000 film Traffic. Christensen is clearly the best thing about this movie; her transition from a pretty, personable high school girl to a psychotic killer is subtle and disturbing. But its charms mainly end there. Bradford and Appleby are adequate, but no more, as they are not required to be. Polson's directing is workmanlike; also only as innovative as necessary. His stuttery editing style smacks more of self-conscious artiness than ingenuity, and his simplistic handling of the increasingly far-fetched plot does nothing to mask the logically inexplicable aspects of the story line. If Swimfan had been more original, it may have seemed more important, but it doesn't venture out very far from the dive platform of its source material, and when it does, it often misses a stroke. **½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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