December 02, 2004

Kevin Spacey and Dodd Darin

Spacey's Labor of Love Makes Darin Pic Swing

LOS ANGELES - A friend who's fond of the imminent Bobby Darin biopic "Beyond the Sea" has often asked in recent weeks, "Why isn't anybody talking about this film?"

Good question.

Lions Gate opens Kevin Spacey's labor of love about the late singer Dec. 17 in New York and Los Angeles. Two-time Academy Award winner Spacey, who sought the rights to Darin's story for years, co-produced, directed, co-wrote and starred in the picture; he sings and dances in the Darin role.

One would think a tour de force like "Beyond the Sea" would garner some pre-awards heat. Yet it drew not one mention in Patrick Goldstein's column about early Oscar handicapping in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times.

So what's the deal?

Clearly, the year's other big music biography, Taylor Hackford's crowd-pleasing Ray Charles opus "Ray," has stolen the thunder thanks to Jamie Foxx's bracing performance as Charles and its much-beloved subject's recent death (and subsequent best-selling album "Genius Loves Company").

But Spacey's commitment to his project and his role shouldn't be denied. In an interview in September, he said of his relentless pursuit of the Darin story: "I thought, 'This is the part for me,' because I'd grown up with Bobby Darin. I thought he was a remarkable talent, and I thought it was a really good part. ... I think Bobby, next to Sammy Davis, Jr., was the greatest nightclub entertainer we had."

Some who have seen the feature at screenings may have been bemused by its unusual structure. It utilizes a film-within-a-film format (Darin is purportedly shooting a movie of his own life) and employs a preteen doppelganger, Young Bobby (William Ullrich), as a device to explore Darin's divided personality.

Spacey said creating the screenplay took "a lot of shaping and trying to figure out what was the most efficient storytelling and the most entertaining storytelling in terms of how you use Bobby's music so that it advances the film -- so that you're not stopping and having a concert movie."

In this, the film succeeds marvelously: "Beyond the Sea," which deploys hard-swinging nightclub sequences and splashy musical numbers in the Vincente Minnelli manner, vibrates with the raw energy one associates with Darin's finger-popping performances of the '60s.

Credit for that bristling vitality must go to Spacey the actor-singer-dancer. Anyone who has caught him on a talk show knows he's a gifted mimic, but his Darin isn't that simple.

Spacey -- who perfectly captures Darin's mixture of arrogance, self-assurance and sensitivity -- plumbs the part so deeply that at times the saturnine actor's shape actually shifts and he startlingly assumes the vocalist's moon-faced, shark-eyed visage. Check out the recent Darin DVD/CD release "Aces Back to Back" -- the similarity is uncanny.

The cat can sing, too. Hear Spacey's work on the recently released "Beyond the Sea" soundtrack (Rhino/Atco). Or, perhaps better yet, catch him on his short Darin concert tour, which kicks off Friday in Ventura and pulls into the Wiltern in Los Angeles on Monday.

For our money, Spacey swings.

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