Friday, February 1, 2013

Body of Evidence (1993) - Madonna Goes the Sleazy-Thriller Route

Body of Evidence: Madonna Determined to Show how Bad She Can Be

DVD cover Body of Evidence 1993
"Body of Evidence" (1993).

Madonna has a longer list of film credentials than many Hollywood stars who don't also have singing as their main career, and her projects range from classy ("Evita" and "A League of their Own") to sleazy ("Swept Away"). "Body of Evidence" (1993), directed by Uli Edel from a script by , is one of her sleaziest outings. The fact that Madonna can bounce back from these types of disasters shows how much talent she has as a singer. A Dino De Laurentiis erotic thriller of the type usually shown on Cinemax, "Body of Evidence" apparently was designed to capitalize on the notoriety of the previous year's "Basic Instinct." The issue of "rough sex" also was very topical at the time because of some high-profile murder cases.

Julianne Moore Madonna Body of Evidence 1993
Julianne Moore and Madonna in "Body of Evidence."

Unfortunately, films in the erotic thriller category lean heavily on the female star to keep the viewer's interest, and Madonna has a hard time living down to the genre given the limitations of the script. While the lurid premise of a woman allegedly screwing a man to death for the inheritance must have sounded provocative and in line with Madonna's public persona at the time of being a "wild girl" who knew no limits, the unintended effect of her shenanigans is that she looks desperate for relevance at a time when soft-core stars like Shannon Whirry ("Mirror Images II") had the erotic thriller genre down to a science.

Madonna Body of Evidence 1993
Madonna as Rebecca Carlson in "Body of Evidence." For some reason, pearls are an essential part of her character.

An older man, Andrew Marsh (Michael Forest), is into kinky sex that he tapes for for his own later amusement. After he is found dead from asphyxiation during a sexual encounter, the main suspect is Rebecca Carlson (Madonna). Carlson appears in some of Marsh's films and stands to inherit $8 million dollars that he left her in his will. Charged with First Degree Murder, Carlson hires lawyer Frank Dulaney (Willem Dafoe) to defend her. The two quickly embark on a sexual relationship that has eerie similarities to the one between Marsh and Carlson. During their first sexual encounter, Carlson ties Dulaney's hands, then pours hot candle wax all over him before taking control of him sexually.

Madonna and Dafoe Body of Evidence 1993
There are several talky dramatic confrontations in "Body of Evidence."

Carlson loudly proclaims her innocence in court, but District Attorney Robert Garrett (Joe Mantegna) is out to convict her. The case is complicated by testimony from Marsh's assistant, Joanne Braslow (Anne Archer), that she also had sex with him. Meanwhile, Dulaney begins to suspect that Carlson isn't telling him everything, and that he will withdraw from the case unless she comes clean. Carlson retaliates by calling Dulaney's wife (Julianne Moore), who accuses him of cheating on her and points out various "lovemarks" left by Carlson on his body. Dulaney then confronts Carlson, who entices him into having rough sex. This time, though, he restrains her and she is helpless.

Madonna Body of Evidence 1993
Madonna acting sexy in "Body of Evidence."

In court the next day, Garrett shows that Carlson has a habit of dating older men and having rough sex with them, including Jeffery Roston (Frank Langella). Carlson, though, testifies on her own behalf and wins over the jury, earning an acquittal. As she leaves the courtroom, Carlson thanks Dulaney for winning the case despite the fact that she was guilty.

Madonna Body of Evidence 1993

Visiting Carlson's house that night, Dulaney overhears her talking with Marsh's doctor, Alan Payley (Jurgen Prochnow), about how they killed Marsh. Carlson knows she can't be tried again for the murder, but she dismisses Payley in humiliating fashion because he remains in jeopardy. Carlson makes a point of rubbing it in by telling how easy it is for her to make men do whatever she wants. Payley, enraged, pulls out a gun and shoots Carlson.

Madonna and Dafoe Body of Evidence 1993
Madonna has looked better elsewhere than in "Body of Evidence."

Madonna, who already had a sexy image from her "Like a Virgin" days, appeared to be trying to deepen it with her "Sex" coffee table book and this film, both released in 1993. She appeared nude in both, though her most explicit scenes in "Body of Evidence" were only released to home video. Madonna also was in the process of releasing music videos around this time with an increasingly sophomoric sexual edge, such as "Vogue" and "Bad Girl." While using her attractiveness to sell more music, she at the same time seemed to poke fun at the whole idea of sexualized imagery in modern culture, giving her products a slightly comical with their brash sexual posturing.

Dulaney Carlson Body of Evidence 1993
Madonna actually took lessons from a dominatrix for this scene in "Body of Evidence."

There are several explicit sexual scenes that portray various sexual acts in "Body of Evidence." If you are a fan of Madonna that may be reason enough to see "Body of Evidence." However, throughout the film, you get the impression that Madonna is playing herself, not some character, and she seems to be almost desperately trying to prove how "bad" she can be. The script is terrible, with the awkward ending only the capper for a screenplay full of stereotyped, demeaning roles (the respected Langella's appearance remains a mystery) and obvious plot points that play out a dreary scenario that is obvious throughout. Dafoe is a great character actor, but he is not ideally suited as a romantic leading man in this kind of twisted, turgid drama. Little-known Director Edel filled a niche at the time of filming dark, sexually frank dramas like this one. Since "Body of Evidence," which did his career no favors, he mainly has worked on television mini-series and domestic German films.

Julianne Moore Madonna Body of Evidence 1993

There also is a famous scene in which Julianne Moore slaps Madonna. Or... well, let's let Moore tell that story:
It was a fake slap, but she wasn't talking to me because she was being very method-y. I felt nervous and scared. I didn't want to hit her at all.
For a lot of viewers, that scene was pure wish fulfillment, but why opens up a whole other can of worms. So, let's just say it is a memorable scene in "Body of Evidence."

Madonna Dafoe Body of Evidence 1993
Madonna looking bored during a courtroom scene in "Body of Evidence."

"Body of Evidence" remains interesting because, after all, it is Madonna. She may not be as hot as the other divas in these kinds of films (even though she goes all the way for her art, masturbating for the camera and the like), but, then again, they aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The sex is no steamier than you will see in any erotic thriller like this, but the production values are better and you won't see Willem Dafoe appearing in any Shannon Tweed movies. "Body of Evidence" is worth a look if you want to buy into Madonna's act as edgy seductress who is the baddest of bad girls.

DVD cover Body of Evidence 1993