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Swimming With Sharks (1994)
Swimming With Sharks (also known as The Boss and Buddy Factor) is a 1994 American comedy drama film, directed and written by George Huang. Buddy Ackerman, an influential movie mogul, hires Guy, a naïve young writer, as his assistant. Guy, who has just graduated from film school, believes that his new job is a golden opportunity. Despite warnings from Rex, the outgoing assistant who has become hardened under Buddy's reign, Guy remains optimistic. Unfortunately, Buddy turns out to be the boss from hell; he treats Guy like a slave, subjects him to sadistic (and public) verbal abuse, and has him bending over backwards to do meaningless errands that go beyond just his work life. Guy is humiliated and forced to bear the brunt of his insults. Guy's only solace is his girlfriend, Dawn, a producer at Buddy's firm. When Buddy apparently fires Guy in a phone call, Guy snaps and kidnaps Buddy in order to exact some revenge, which results in tying up Buddy and subjecting him to severe beatings, torture and mind games. It is later revealed that due to a botched call waiting function on Buddy's home phone, Guy hears Buddy and Dawn arranging a rendezvous at Buddy's house.
Swimming With Sharks rapidly became a cult favorite, a mean and unsparing indictment of the Hollywood ego trip, as seen through its evil villain (Kevin Spacey in one of his first standout roles) and his nebbish assistant (Frank Whaley, playing the Huang character). Whaley's Guy suffers the abuse of Spacey's power broker, Buddy Ackerman until it hits a breaking point. (Sample dialogue: 'You have no brain. No judgement calls are necessary. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You are here for me. You are here to protect my interests and to serve my needs.') Finally, when Buddy makes a move on Guy's new girlfriend, a studio producer named Dawn (Michelle Forbes) who has inexplicably latched on to Guy, Guy goes bananas and takes Buddy hostage in his own home. It's a come to Jesus moment, and the entire film is cast as a series of flashbacks from that night in his house.
Movies like this have been made before -- in fact, in the 1990s they were making one a year (Suicide Kings, The Ref (also with Spacey)), and aside from the scorching dialogue there's not much here that feels original. Whaly and Forbes are good (and watch for an early Benicio Del Toro appearance), but Spacey's dripping vitriol steals the show completely.
Perhaps its biggest lesson is Huang's aftermath, which hasn't seen him direct another film of consequence since. (Trivia notes that Huang shot Elijah Wood's audition video for Lord of the Rings. Wow.) Did Huang's tale of torturing studio executives have a negative impact on his ability to get work in Hollywood? Say it ain't so!
The film is now available on a mega-DVD package, which includes three commentary tracks, a 10-year retrospective, 15 minutes of deleted scenes, and a couple of additional featurettes. If you've never seen the film, this disc is the perfect way to experience it.