MGM // 1993 // 100 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 17th, 2003
An act of love or an act of murder?
Attention all law school students: the actual practice of law is nothing like the media makes it out to be. You will not be involved in cases of international intrigue or personal danger. You will not have sexy clients walking up to you in lacy underthings or clingy Speedos and requesting an interpersonal violation of the 4th, 8th, and 13th Amendments. And unless you are on prime time via satellite on Court TV representing a once-popular child star that decided the best way to spend their post-fame obscurity was on a five-state killing spree, you will never, ever be involved in an intense, high profile trial. A mediocre lawyer lets the case get away from him or her, degenerating into a circus. A competent attorney settles the stupid dispute and gets drunk in Bermuda. TV shows like LA Law or The Practice make days in front of a judge seem sensual, exciting, and filled with backstage mystery and intrigue. In reality, you've got ulcers, clients from the biologically substrata, and a daily schedule divided between the AA counselor, an ethics committee review board, and your third ex-spouse's own legal mouthpiece. Add to this pantheon of propaganda as career counseling the Madonna-rama retardation called Body of Evidence. It wants to convince you that the life of a barrister is filled with titillating clientele, kinky sex, and grand courtroom genuflecting. The only thing it even gets partly right is that your average guilty defendant couldn't act their way out of wet tissue paper, especially when their life depends on it.
When a sexually experimental old coot with a heart like a brine shrimp dies in the throes of Material Girl style passion, everyone suspects that it's another classic case of death by dull dominatrix. Rebecca Carlson is charged with the crime, and lawyer Frank Dulaney takes on the case, since he thought Erotica was an unfairly criticized work of musical genius. The gruff DA, Robert Garrett, functions under the Lionel Hutz theory of criminal prosecution: he has plenty of hearsay and conjecture, which are kinds of evidence, and a huge surplus of surprise witnesses, each more surprising than the next. Frank has no choice, in preparing the defense in this seemingly impossible to win case, but to have wildly graphic, twisted, S&M style sex with Rebecca.
As the trial meanders on, we learn that our dead diddler had a personal secretary, Joanne Braslow, who was more than warm for his form (and for ego enhancing white powder) and that Rebecca slept with Frank Langella because she was one of the few people who didn't know he was flamingly homosexual. More asexual body banter occurs between Frank and his legal charge, much to the audience's, and bar association's, chagrin. It's not long before the jury renders a verdict, secrets and lies are revealed, and the star of Das Boat shows up to explain why, after such a wonderfully atmospheric turn in that German U-boat thriller, he is now compelled to be a talentless Italian singer's plot point boy toy.
This is going to be an anti-Madonna rant, pure and simple. Those hoping to uncover a lost cinematic gem or find redemption for their consistent championing of this film need look elsewhere. There will be no praises of a certain religiously named non-actress. This is going to be a definitive statement on just why this megasuperduperstar of music and the media surrounding it can't get artistic in a motion picture. It's not for lack of trying. Not since Elvis, or Dana Carvey, has someone been given so many chances in front of the camera to hit the box office home run, only to be caught in a game of critical pickle and tagged out before hitting first base. It's clear that, as a pop presence, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccione will have more cultural impact than Michael Jackson and his many noses or Prince and his overly glammed sham secrecy. True, those who came to prominence in the '80s along with the Italian hellion have created more timeless and talented music, but no one has ridden the popularity wave longer, harder, and wetter than our Papa preaching preventer. A hundred years from now people will know Madonna, and not just for being a certain J. Christ's stage mother.
But it won't be for her movies. Hopefully, whoever thought this one note naughty nookie Nannette could grace the silver screen with her saint/whore Valley girl skank is pitching pennies with Colonel Parker in Satan's subterranean game room. Never has a chance to expand one's seemingly unlimited popularity been so misguided. In many ways, Madonna's image personifies the punch line to that old joke about Italian ballerinas and the splits. She is a woman who played used and abused early in her career for all its truncated sensuality and suggestiveness. It's only recently, as motherhood and gravity have compelled her to hike up her knickers, that she tries for exotic grace and misses by a Sicilian mile. Unless you are the Beatles or the Baha Men, the option to multi-facet oneself seems rational, since your one chance at pop stardom is usually fleeting and finite. But when the body of work you craft on camera is more Charles Grodin than Atlas, you need to stop and smell the critical drumming. It's amazing the number of filmgoers and fans who champion Madonna's work in Desperately Seeking Susan as if she is some sort of method chameleon able to lose herself in her quirky portrayal of a tacky, tainted party girl. This wasn't type casting. It was a documentary.
So how do we arrive at Body of Evidence? Why make this movie at all when everything else our Empresses of Expression starred in landed with the same ghastly gape as Rosie O'Donnell's new hairstyle? It's not like Ms. Ciccione had come off a critical box-office turn as Isadora Duncan and wanted to follow up her masterful portrayal as Tevia in the all female Fiddler with this drab bit of titillation free tackiness. Dino De Laurentiis, not known for sharp post-heyday cinematic decisions must have watched Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct while drunk on Strega and figured, "I'll make my own version, only worse." He must have also lost a bet with his then teenage daughter Marta, for why else would he cast her favorite pop star of the moment in the lead? And then he hired Madonna (what, you've never heard Willem Dafoe sing?). Surrounding her with untold amounts of talent and polishing every piece of the sex thriller formula to a high gloss glimmer, everything seemed in place. That is, until Madonna opened her mouth to do something other than stimulate Evian bottles. She is dull. She is lifeless. She comes across as the kind of awkward seductress you'd avoid even if she was the last non-radioactive bit of booty on a desolate post-apocalyptic planet. Body of Evidence is a salacious, stupid courtroom drama that makes the Body Chemistry and Indecent Behavior films look like sexy outtakes from Alfred Hitchcock's home movies.
Still, there had to be some meetings amongst the bigwigs as to how this potential celluloid car crash could work, even with Madonna's flop sweat stinking it up. They must have had numerous graphs and charts and untold amounts of recreational pharmaceuticals and when all was said and done, they drafted a few hypotheticals and produced some production theories that made the notion of casting Marilyn Monroe's night terror in this film an acceptable risk. Or maybe it was the Chevis Regal mutually rotting their livers. When viewed on paper, they do seem substantive. But when witnessed on the big bogged down screen, in either a rated or unrated cut, it turns into a fiasco of J-Lo proportions. One can almost understand the logic in answering the question, "why hire that talent-free puttana?" with the following conjectural bits of brainless wisdom.
Theory #1 -- It's okay, since she's surrounded by others who can act
A stool sample lying in the middle of a pristine porcelain floor is appalling. A stool sample surrounded by glorious flowers from around the world is called fertilizer and is perfectly acceptable. That is why in Body of Evidence Madonna is surrounded by Academy Award nominated actors and talented filmmakers. They all hope to trick the eye and the nose away from the miscast actresses' emotive mistakes. Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Julianne Moore, Anne Archer, and Jurgen Prochnow all seem ready for a ripe reenactment of slick sin and sick silliness. But try as they might, they cannot elevate the vacant Vogue void above the level of interpersonal drywall. Her every line reading is racked with misplaced enunciation and awkward tone shifts, like she's testing the road mics for Bachman Turner Overdrive, not attempting a dalliance. Eventually, her off-center presence torpedoes the storyline to the point where locking Rebecca up for killing the old pervert seems ludicrous, but making her spend a decade in the hole for her weepy gay bashing witness stand saga is not cruel or unusual enough.
Theory #2 -- It's okay, since she's part of a successful formula
Thanks to Sharon Stone, Paul Verhoeven, and a single shot of camera as clinic gynecologist, Basic Instinct brewed up an entire batch of bitter balderdash from which modern moviemaking has yet to recover. The notion of a woman using her privates and her sex as a weapon is not a new one. Just ask Minnie Pearl. But Madonna/Rebecca is supposed to be so super-charged that one night in Bangkok and the world is not only your oyster, but it's your death dealing bearded clam as well. And yet, the scenes between her and Dafoe, in which paraffin and hood ornaments get more action that your average DVD reviewer, are as arousing as a leg cramp and as randy as a road kill jackrabbit. It's telling when Dafoe and Moore ignite the screen with more passion and panting than each of Mad Donny's scenes in toto. Without hot monkey love, the movie must then rely on its whodunit. And in the case of Body of Evidence, that's as lethal as letting Frank Langella whisper all his dialogue. This compost pile of a script is so Allah-awful that the only plot twists you won't see coming from a kilometer all revolve around Julianne Moore owning a restaurant. Funny, she always seemed like a candle store person.
Theory #3 -- It's okay, since it's really all about the sex, anyway
In 1992, Madonna stunned the publishing world by releasing a metal bound book of her getting jiggy with all manner of animal, vegetable, and rough trade. Smart cookie that she was, she called it Sex, and just like those grade school student council campaigns, the use of said salacious word got the attention of the otherwise illiterate public. Suddenly, Joe Sixpack and Fred Viennasausage were lining up to buy a bunch of artsy fartsy nekkid pictures and Ms. Ciccione was taking another trek to her local savings and loan. So why wouldn't seeing the envelope pushing prima donna as big as Branson locomote in her birthday suit on the widescreen be an equal session of self-sensating? Apparently because someone forget to turn on the heat. Instead of illicit acts of carnal craziness, the audience is asked to respond to the wanton tale of perverts in the criminal justice system. Each sex scene in Body of Evidence is more atrocious than the one before. They belittle the notion of anything sensual for a literal interpretation of the phrase "slap and tickle." And as fetching as Lady M may think she is, the last thing Earl Armpitscratch and George Buttcheese want to see is the future Green Goblin's ass gyrating like a blown piston.
Theory #4 -- It's okay, since she's MADONNA!
Relying on your fan base to save a cinematic misstep is not unknown. Just ask Vanilla Ice, Suzannah Hoffs, and the Olson twins. But Madonna pushes her aficionados to the breaking point every time she steps before the Panaflex for a little thespian action. Hoping devotees will plunk down $15 bucks for a CD filled with techno trash is one thing. Thinking they will relinquish requisite disbelief to consider the powerful revelry girl a scared, scared shattered sexual soul who may or may not be hiding a secret homicidal side is simply requesting too much. When pushed before, her loyalists have rejected screwball comedy (Who's That Girl?) and cartoon capering (Dick Tracy). Just because she is a mini-mogul empire filled with unending revenue and publicity streams (Material Girl gets a hair in her eye -- news and film at 11) doesn't make her acting more legitimate or believable than O.J. Simpson's or Fran Drescher's. Madonna literally sinks Body of Evidence and no amount of fanatic financing could lift its catastrophic crappiness out of the dustbin where it belongs. Money apparently can't buy you love or a decent acting coach.
To blame this hunk of legal illegitimacy solely on her scrawny, well-defined shoulders may seem extreme, and it probably is. After all, there's so much fault to spread around that every creative component of this movie should be considered guilty. German born Uli Edel has made brutal, evocative films like Christiane F and Last Exit to Brooklyn. But the sight of Jennifer Jason Leigh having method sex over and over again must have sent him into a tawdriness tizzy, as the set piece porking that goes on between Dafoe and Maddy is as sensual as a sitz bath and about as erotic as Judge Roy Bean. Not that the legal system gets its just desserts at the hand of this Teutonic terror. Edel decides that the best way to handle the intense lawyer Q&A is to shoot everything in close-up, all the better to see the shite come slipping from his cast's lips. The script, by Brad Mirman, is also accountable. It is completely incompetent when it comes to the comings and goings of the courtroom. He writes lawyers as high paid prostitutes, unprepared for what witnesses are going to be called, let alone what they are going to say. The trial process to Brad is each side simply sitting around waiting for the other to broadside them, all the more reason to constantly shout "OBJECTION!" like a wounded badger.
Body of Evidence is a bad film, rated or not. MGM submits this stinker in a flip disc presentation that offers a splendid anamorphic widescreen image on both sides. The 1.85:1 framing used by Edel looks good. There seems to be a slight amount of edge enhancement in the unrated version, as if some digital manipulation was used to connect the existing footage to the added material. The uncensored version also allows you to see a few more moments of Madonna touching herself in a completely sexless fashion (trust me, when the Divinyls think about this performance, they ain't doing much autoerotic stimulation) and Willem pumping Julianne Moore like a service station spare tire. The soundtrack presentation in Dolby Digital Surround is serviceable, and since we are spared a title or theme song by her royal heinous, there is no qualm with the aural presentation. For extras, we are treated to the standard ten-minute puff piece trying like Hades to convince you that Body of Evidence will be a spicy, scandalous cinematic experience. The cast gives a better self-deluding performance here than in the film. Madonna is especially animated, as if she can sense her name being mentioned alongside Sharon Stone's when a history of deadly screen vixens is compiled. Little does she know that the only time they will be discussed in the same sentence is when it's discovered that her performance in Body of Evidence gave the Casino star that cerebral hemorrhage she suffered from a while back.
If you're a sucker for courtroom histrionics and couldn't care less if they are legally, ethically, or even realistically correct, then you could do a lot worse than Body of Evidence. Throw Madonna's non-performance to the side and savor the ridiculously campy plot, the professional motions going through of Willem Dafoe and Joe Mantagna. Marvel as Anne Archer is given a nude body double that looks more like a hairy Sasquatch than our elegant actress. And wonder why movies like this get made. Death by sexual misadventure is often considered the only way to go, according to many post-menopausal males with their hands in their boxers and their eyes on the Spice Channel. The candle carnality and broken light bulb ludicrousness of the sex scenes should convince viewers once and for all that, while she may not be a good lay, Madonna's Rebecca is at least a creative one. Anyone who would trip the booty fantastic with Dafoe, Jurgen, and the lazy Langella has got to have some internal fantasies saved up for such a dire physical workout. Body of Evidence will keep you guessing until the last few minutes. Guessing why they, and you, wasted your time.
Not every rocker turned screen star suffered in the transition. The Beatles proved that if you Help!ed yourself to a little cinematic guidance, A Hard Day's Night in front of the camera could turn into a solid gold classic. David Byrne filtered his twisted ideology into a tale about tabloids and Texas and made a quirky, perky take on love that highlighted the True Stories found within. Even Sting made a splash or two as a leading man and when the material became too challenging for him, he cut bait and ran for the comfort of VH1. But not Madunce Cap. In the nine years since Body of Evidence, she has played everything from Evita Perone in the Lloyd Webber version of political life as music video to Lina Wertmuller's worst nightmare. Historically, she will go down...and be remembered as a musical mainstay that couldn't translate her fan appeal into screen savvy. Eminem has recently broken out as a future star with his gritty portrayal of a rapper (some stretch) in 8 Mile. Here's hoping that ten years from now he's not nude, pouring hot cocoa on Ryan Phillipe's backside all in the name of a tense, psychological thriller. Body of Evidence and Madonna's terrible performance proves once and for all that the media's version of the practice of law is truly unrealistic. About the only thing they get right is that it does suck, both literally and figuratively.
Body of Evidence is guilty on all charges and sentenced to death, as is the penalty for all such capital offenses. Madonna is also found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. She will, however, be let out to record more songs like "Open Your Heart," which is the only tune in her oeuvre this Court will hum without noticeable embarrassment. The rest of the cast and crew are remanded to the State home for the criminally inane, and required to perform 800 hours of cinematic community service to wipe this waste of time out of the collection consciousness of anyone unfortunate enough to see it. Court dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Rated and Unrated Versions of the Film
* Behind the Scenes Featurette