“Shut Up, Listen and Learn.”
It’s been 15 years since I first laid eyes on Swimming with Sharks (1995), the Hollywood satire about an abusive executive and his lackey assistant. What I never forgot – nor most any indie cinephiles have neither – was Kevin Spacey’s performance as Buddy Ackerman who is nobody’s buddy. “You’re nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother flushing it. My bathmat means more than you!” This became a curious revisit after the release of the new “Horrible Bosses” which undoubtedly instant recalls Spacey reprising the same performance.
Revisiting it was a disillusionment, it was outdated. The story outline is gimmicky with Frank Whaley pointing a gun at boss Spacey after invading his home, first strapping him to a chair and then hastily torturing him – these segments are interrupted as it flashbacks to events of Whaley getting stomped on by Spacey in the past year.
“Swimming with Sharks” isn’t necessarily a bad movie, because you’re glued to the episodes of the boss treating his assistant like a cockroach and scenes of other cutthroat movie biz at play. In other words, every time Spacey gets to volcanically blow steam it’s nastily appealing. But everything else about it is kind of annoying, including Whaley’s would-be sizzle with a producer played by the tart Michelle Forbes and the ceaseless optimistic promises of the gullible Whaley believing he will be promoted after he earns his way through slave work.
The idea of a lowly employee tying his boss to a chair and making him talk is an exhausted cliché, and this movie plays it out to even worse effect. These scenes are accompanied by a caustic and shrill music score that telegraphs yuppie thriller! Buddy talks and reveals the vulnerability within and has a sad-sack story to boot, which is over-the-top. But the revenge stuff has a despondent pulse (in other words, zero pulse) that doesn’t meld with the bitchin’ and bitin’ black comedy stuff and the result is a movie that is a disproportionate hodgepodge. Kevin Spacey is what makes it worth watching, but if Spacey wasn’t in it the movie it wouldn’t have been worth watching.
In retrospect, I prefer “Horrible Bosses” (pic below) with its pop commercialism infused with a zany edge. I am thankful for Kevin Spacey setting the groundwork with “Swimming with Sharks” which paved him a career for playing pompous honchos with a scathing sarcasm. Buddy Ackerman might be the original horrible boss, but Spacey over time got better scripts and therefore better mileage out of maltreating his inferiors, e.g., “Horrible Bosses.” Reprise, yeah maybe. But cooler movie.