Review: ‘Swimming with Sharks’

Borrowing a page from The Player with a tip of the hat to Reservoir Dogs, George Huang's sharp first feature is a revenge fantasy in which a much put-upon flunky gets some of his own back when he holds his insufferable boss hostage and tortures him over all 'the indignities and hardships' he's suffered. Pic charts a recent Hollywood arrival's quick trip from idealism to murderous me-firstism.

Borrowing a page from The Player with a tip of the hat to Reservoir Dogs, George Huang’s sharp first feature is a revenge fantasy in which a much put-upon flunky gets some of his own back when he holds his insufferable boss hostage and tortures him over all ‘the indignities and hardships’ he’s suffered. Pic charts a recent Hollywood arrival’s quick trip from idealism to murderous me-firstism.

Film school grad Guy (Frank Whaley) got lucky in town right away, landing a fast-track job as personal assistant to high-powered studio production exec Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey), a man known for reveling in power, babes and abuse of employees. Not only does Buddy humiliate the naive Guy in front of other workers, he even prevents the kid from ever taking lunch, which means Guy must meet foxy young producer Dawn (Michelle Forbes) one evening. She does it mostly to improve her position with Buddy so he’ll move on her new project.

Intercut with the office action are ‘current’ scenes in which an enraged Guy, having tied up Buddy in the latter’s house, forces him to confront his own childish sadism, all the while torturing him and threatening worse. Escalating face-off is climaxed by an unexpected arrival, and surprise ending truly does The Player one better in its evaluation of how self-centered, amoral and insular Hollywood can be.

Within its very limited range, pic has verve, a fine control of tone and a stylish look given its low budget and three-week sked. Spacey dominates, but Whaley makes a convincing transition from goody-goody to icy insider, and Forbes manages well despite being forced to flip-flop on command between sarcastic bitchiness and softer intimacy.

[Pic was reviewed from the 1994 Telluride fest under the title The Buddy Factor, but was retitled for general release.]

Swimming with Sharks

Production

Cineville. Director George Huang; Producer Steve Alexander, Joanne Moore; Screenplay George Huang; Camera Steven Finestone; Editor Ed Marx; Music Tom Heil; Art Director Veronika Merlin, Cecil Gentry

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1995. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Kevin Spacey Frank Whaley Michelle Forbes Benicio Del Toro Jerry Levine Roy Dotrice
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