Swimming with Sharks (1994)


Yeah, bosses suck.

When Guy (Frank Whaley), a recent film-school graduate with big ideas, takes a job as assistant to major studio executive Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey), he believes his ship has finally come in; little does he know it’s a slave ship, for his boss is indeed worse than a slave driver. But yet, he still puts up with it all thinking he has the dream job in the palm of his hands.

Anybody who has ever worked in a day in their life, probably know that bosses suck. There’s always a time and place where a boss will get on your nerves, piss you off, and just make you want to beat the shit out of them with no end in sight. However, that’s what bosses are there for and if you decide to break they teeth, just be ready for a pink slip and possible lawsuit some time soon. That’s why we hate bosses: they yell and scream at us, and we can’t do shit about it. That’s what I love about being un-employed. Yay for me.

Writer/director George Huang does a pretty impressive with this film, showing us the highs and lows of working in Hollywood, the people that can make it some of the worst days of your life, and just what it may do to all of your dreams of one day running rampant, happy, and free through Hollywood, making as much mooolah as you can. We all know that Hollywood is a vicious place to make money and work, but this film really hits that idea home hard and shows just what psychological effects it can have you. You probably won’t go full, Travis Bickle-psycho working in Hollywood, but it will definitely ‘eff with your mind and probably make you feel like you’re worse than you really are. It makes you wonder how much pain and agony like this Huang had to endure before making this movie. Poor guy, but at least he was able to get this one out there and show his former bosses over the years that he could kick-ass.

"Excuse me sir, could you hold on a second? My boss is calling me a dick-nosed prick and needs my attention."
“Excuse me sir, could you hold on a second? My boss is calling me a dick-nosed prick and needs my attention.”

The film starts off very dark, showing us a hostage situation where Guy traps Buddy into his house, but then keeps on flashing-back to Guy’s early days of working with Buddy and finding out just how they go to this point. This is particularly interesting because the film seems to juggling two types of genres (dark comedy and psychological thriller) and making it work since everything here (including the comedy), is so damn bleak. Honestly, all of the shit that Guy has to go through is some really, painfully sad stuff that I barely even laughed at because I just felt so sorry for the guy. But even though I didn’t really laugh at this flick, it was still well-written by Huang and I thought the balance of dark comedy and psychological thriller worked well just because he never fully changed the pace and kept it one, long, sad adventure through the inner-day workings of Hollywood.

What didn’t work for me was that Guy isn’t really a character you can’t get behind, no matter how hard the film tries to make us feel for him. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to feel bad for a guy that gets shit on at work as much as he does but the guy (pun intended) never shows any backbone and is pretty much just an ordinary, stepping-stool for Buddy. I get that this is what Huang was trying to do, but it seemed like almost every scene with Buddy and Guy was just going to show Guy effin’ up and having Buddy insult him in a very witty, but terribly mean way (then again, when are insults ever nice?). This sort of formula of gets a tad old and repetitive after awhile and you just want Guy to stand up for himself, which he never does, that is until when we know and it’s a shame cause this could have been a whole lot more interesting if that idea was pursued more thoroughly.

Guy is also a pretty bland character no matter how hard Frank Whaley may have tried here as well. Whaley is a good actor, and even if he isn’t a mainstream name (his villain role in Vacancy is probably his biggest role, which really isn’t saying much), can still prove that he has the chops to pull-off any character but he seems a bit miscast here as well. Whaley is good when it comes to showing the bumbling, bright-eyed boy who comes into a new work office expecting to hit the big times, but when all of that starts to change and he gets a little crazy, Whaley doesn’t seem that powerful or freaky to make psycho work. I could believe that a guy like this would go so insane to capture and torture his boss, but Whaley just doesn’t have that strong of a delivery to make you believe so. Maybe it was also the character of Guy himself that didn’t feel all that fleshed-out for but either way, something was just missing here.

Whaley definitely needed help somehow.
Whaley definitely needed help somehow.

But where Whaley seems to fail, Spacey succeeds and flies with flying, fucking colors. Basically, anybody who has seen Horrible Bosses knows that Kevin Spacey can play one, bad motherfucker of a boss but even if you haven’t seen this movie; you still don’t even know. Spacey is so detestable as Buddy, that it’s almost likable. Spacey is perfect at playing this prick that almost everything that comes out his mouth, seems to fit his character so well and it just gets better and better as the insults start to get meaner and meaner. But it’s not all about being a terribly-mean asshole that makes Spacey’s performance work so well as it does, he actually shows a lot of compassion behind it all that works, mainly because of Spacey’s talents as an actor. Spacey gives us a reason as to why he is, the way he is and it makes sense but it also seems unfair, making his character a very hard one to feel compassion for even when he seems to be deep down inside, a very sad, angry, and lonely person that just preys on making the weaker ones feel inferior to him. He’s an asshole, but he’s an asshole that has depth and only Spacey can show that in as perfect of a way as this. Way, way better character that blows Guy right out of the water in terms of complexity.

Consensus: Swimming with Sharks is perfectly acted by Kevin Spacey, who is at the top of his game here as the detestable Buddy Ackerman, and features a lot of insight into how vicious of a place like Hollywood is to be working at, but it’s main character seems very ordinary. Hell, maybe almost too ordinary and takes away a lot of the promises that this material could have easily went with, had Huang decided to go down that path.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't worry, I'd shit my pants too.
Don’t worry, I’d shit my pants too.
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16 comments

  1. Very nice review and although I don’t agree with you so much on the character of Guy.(He wasn’t just a stepping stone to me). You are spot on with your views on Kevin Spacy’s character. The Sweet and Low scene is classic

    • Benicio gave us a nice, but brief look at what can happen when your job and life is all coming together and sets the tone right from there. Solid stuff from the man.

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