Don’t take this the wrong way — it’s no comparison of spiritual value or box office potential — but there’s more than a passing similarity between Beyond the Sea and The Passion of the Christ. Like Mel Gibson’s rococo rendering of the death of Jesus, Kevin Spacey’s delirious interpretive rendering of the life of 1960s crooner Bobby Darin is a labor of love; like Gibson’s creation, Spacey’s is obsessive and extreme in style; and like Gibson’s conversation starter, Spacey’s jaw-dropper draws as much attention to the filmmaker’s psychology (what demons chased each toward such an unwittingly self-revealing vanity production?) as to the film.
Unlike The Passion, however, Beyond the Sea stars the same fellow who co-wrote, directed, and produced. Spacey is a graceful if unnervingly intense mimic, and his song-and-dance re-creations of Darin’s repertory are impressive. But for an actor who so often seems to operate behind a veil, the grim seriousness of identification with which he throws himself into the brief life of the once wildly popular entertainer who died in 1973 at the age of 37 is, to say the least, weirdly moving. (Kate Bosworth is more sanguine as wife Sandra Dee.) And the film’s tortured conceit — that a peculiarly older-than-reality Darin is making his own autobiopic, comparing memories with a kid who plays the hero as a sickly shrimp — is its own kind of can’t-look-away crazy.