In the first few minutes of the semibiographical Beyond the Sea, Bobby Darin, played by Kevin Spacey, is filming a semibiographical version of his life (which in fact never happened). Confused? Just you wait.
A colleague of Darin’s wonders aloud if the older Darin is too old to play the young Darin. Kevin Spa— er, Bobby Darin, blithely laughs away this silly notion.
This utterly ridiculously setup is clearly meant to address, right off the bat, how Spacey — who plays Darin from his 20s onward — is nearly a decade older than Darin was when he died of heart failure at 37.
But who cares about such pesky details? After all, this isn’t really a biographical film about Bobby Darin; it’s a Kevin Spacey film, written, directed and starring Kevin Spacey, who sure can sing and dance, by golly!
What was that fella’s name again? Oh, right — Bobby Darin. Sadly, this golden-voiced crooner from the ’50s and ’60s is forced to take a back seat in the movie about his own life. But that Kevin Spacey sure can sing!
Darin became a teen sensation with “Splish Splash” in 1958, before following in the footsteps of the Rat Pack, with classics like “Mack the Knife” and “More,” which is now — tragically — better known as that song from those Kohl’s commercials. Darin’s heart suffered damage from childhood rheumatic fever, and he wasn’t expected to live past his teens. But the plucky young Darin persevered; his mother taught him the joy of music and performance, and he went on to become one of the greatest lounge lizards of our time.
All this could make for a terribly moving and touching story, but damned if Kevin Spacey will let that get in the way of his singing talents. However, he certainly deserves credit for pushing through the project. And, to be fair, the film is far from a complete wash. The elaborate, color-drenched and choreographed song-and-dance numbers are a fantastic homage to the golden age of MGM musicals, and Spacey really does have a lovely set of pipes. There are at least a few scenes — Spacey bathed in the spotlight, backed by a truly swinging big band, his voice soaring through the standards — that beautifully capture the feeling of the era and can easily bring a genuine tear to the eye. But a few glorious numbers don’t excuse Spacey’s raging egotism trampling over Darin’s life. Furthermore, this cinematic depiction of the singer’s relationship with squeaky-clean actress Sandra Dee (played by Kate Bosworth) borders on child pornography. Darin was only six years older than Dee when the two married in 1960; but watching the jowly 45-year-old Spacey paw at 21-year-old Bosworth is almost as ick-inducing and creepy as his undressing of Mena Suvari in American Beauty.
To make matters worse, a kid portraying Darin as a child pops up to interact with Spac— er, Darin as an adult throughout the film. What could have been poignant in small doses simply becomes annoying.
Die-hard fans of Bobby Darin may be turned off by the uneven treatment of the singer’s life, but most likely they’ll simply appreciate the sweet stroll down memory lane. For anyone who’s a fan of big bands, the golden age of crooning and MGM musicals, this film is worth the price of admission, and the musical numbers are nothing short of full-on old-school entertainment. And that Kevin Spacey sure can sing!
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111) and select theaters.
Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.