Body of Evidence
Reviewed in November 2000
Director: Uli Edel. Cast: Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Anne Archer, Julianne Moore, Frank Langella, Jürgen Prochnow, Lillian Lehman. Screenplay: Brad Mirman.

Twitter Capsule: Awful and, worse, boring erotic mystery-cum-courtroom slog, not even good for laughs you crave from famous turkeys

Photo © 1993 Dino De Laurentiis Communications
Even in the dismal context of Madonna's own film career, Body of Evidence rivals Shanghai Surprise as the most maligned entry—the flop most likely to be inserted as a film critic's punchline. My decision to rent Body of Evidence was motivated by three primary factors. Since I presume they are the only reasons anyone would ever make such a reckless decision, I have helpfully divided this review into sections. Please identify your particular temptation or weakness, and then read why it's just not worth it.

1) P.F.D., or Post-Flop Depression: I have often found that an effective way to flush my mind of the residue of a terrible, self-important movie is to watch a terrible movie that knows how unimportant it is. Having just stumbled out of the distilled anomie that is Beau travail, I thought I'd use a free rental coupon on this dog.* Nothing ventured, nothing gained indeed, though the failed titillations and wild miscalculations of Body of Evidence did take the brunt off the evening's earlier disappointment—at least that film had a shot. Just so you know, La Ciccone stars here as Rebecca Carlson, a husky-voiced vamp with a terrible dye job and a history of dating rich, older men. Likewise, these rich, older men have a history of dying in the sack. (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) Willem Dafoe is the straight-arrow lawyer assigned to defend her, but Rebecca/Madonna hates nothing so much as unblinking erotic conservatism, so she draws Willem into her favorite sexual games. At different times, these include tying him up with his own belt, dripping candle wax on his naked torso, and dragging his back across the hood of a car after littering it with broken glass. If none of these images are inherently shocking to you—indeed, if they partially fail to shock because you've already seen Madonna doing them in her videos—you've got about 25 minutes of tape you can just fast forward.

2) Incredulous Curiosity: Could It Actually Be Worse Than The Next Best Thing?: Yes. In fact, the biggest drawback to fast forwarding through the ludicrous sex scenes is that you get yourself all bogged down in the plot. Since none of the filmmakers worried about the narrative, why should you? Besides, no matter how preposterous you found The Next Best Thing's courtroom finale, at least it only occupied the last half-hour of the film. The trial in Body of Evidence begins barely thirty minutes after the movie starts, which means the only way to cycle other characters through the plot is to call them and recall them to the stand. Lawyers who were this inefficient in their approaches to witnesses would never have made the money to buy suits like Joe Mantegna's. Joe Mantegna?, you ask. Yes, Mamet's muse pops up here as the civil prosecutor, and bless his heart, Mantegna acts his scenes as though they mattered. They don't, however, and neither does his performance. And speaking of the supporting cast . . .

3) Madonna, Shmadonna—Isn't Julianne Moore In This Movie?: Well, yes and no. Moore has a small part as Dafoe's wife, and suffice it to say the best new actress of the 1990s isn't being challenged at all. Spotting her here is like finding out that Meryl Streep had a bit part in Barbarella; at least Moore was smart enough to make sure Edel shot one of her major scenes from so far away, you can't even tell it's her. The rest of the actors—Anne Archer, Jürgen Prochnow, Frank Langella—have been forced by taste or circumstance into the sorts of résumés that make the credit list of Body of Evidence smell like the limburger cheese it is. Sometimes even worse than watching bad actors is watching good actors who have been coerced all too often into bad movies, yielding either the air of dolorous resignation or the unbecoming facetiousness of the gifted student who finds himself in a remedial course. In fact, when held against these slumming emoters struggling to seem professional, Madonna's half-smirking embrace of the film's abject awfulness comes across rather well. If only we didn't know that bad acting tends to be an inevitability for Madonna more than a choice, we might consider her Rebecca in league with, for example, Sharon Stone's work in the Diabolique remake. Madonna's just not as riveting to watch as Stone is, and she never seems to be having as much fun, except when she's showing off her breasts. If that counts to you as cinema, then by all means, rent this howler. Otherwise, be thankful that its star, a singer, dancer, mother, and woman of the world, has plenty of day jobs to go back to. D


* Editor's Note, 2011: Please note how unexpected I found this conjunction of titles while opening this review back up, and how gleefully humiliating the gist of these sentences. Not every movie is for everybody, and it was hardly inevitable that Beau travail would go on to become one of my favorite movies, but the idea that one ought to sprint from Claire Denis to Uli Edel as some kind of palate cleanser makes me think I was even crazier than this movie.

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