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Swimming With Sharks

Director – George Huang – 1994 – US – Cert. 15 – 93m

*****

A film school graduate’s job with a Hollywood producer turns out to be a nightmare

To the blissfully ignorant outsider, the Hollywood movie business is a glamorous place where dreams come true. In reality, it’s often closer to a personal hell where the aspirant’s dreams are trampled underfoot by passing megalomaniacs. At least, that’s what the nightmarish Swimming With Sharks would have us believe as it cheerfully plunges green film school graduate Guy (Frank Whaley) into an assistant’s job with major Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey).

Buddy is the sort of boss who tells underlings, “your brain counts as nothing”, then insults them viciously in front of visiting clients. Reasons for insults heaped on Guy include bringing the coffee with the wrong kind of sweetener and leaving at the office the phone number of the starlet wannabe his boss is currently bedding. Further employer vitriol erupts when Buddy’s superior (a welcome if all too brief appearance from veteran Brit Roy Dotrice) notices spelling errors Buddy had earlier refused to allow Guy to correct – in script notes supplied Buddy by Guy but palmed off by Buddy as his own.

Matters are further complicated by the presence of rising producer Dawn (Kalifornia’s Michelle Forbes) pushing a worthy project that goes against the grain of Buddy’s staple, mindless action picture output. She takes Guy to task on his first day for pinching her parking space (in an otherwise empty parking lot) but soon changes her tune when she discovers he works for Buddy, taking him out for drinks and in for sex.

Bookended with a recurrent frame story in which Guy, having had all he can take, ties Buddy to a chair in his home and proceeds to torture him, this swim is awash with chokingly funny one-liners in between the black fins. The minimal number of sets and characters indicate low budget origins, but as satire the piece is spot on and very, very funny.

Review originally published in What’s On In London, circa 1995.

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