Madonna's Basic Instinct: "Body Of Evidence" (1993) Movie Review
Ok, first things first: this is a bad movie. It deserves the Razzies as well as it's flop status. Released on January 15, 1993, the movie was made on a $30,000,000 budget and grossed only $13,000,000. It stands at a 6% critical approval on Rotten Tomatoes as I'm writing these lines.
However, as a die-hard Madonna fan, I find it strangely entertaining and I watched it probably many more times than I should have. I have my reasons. But first, a bit of history!
The year is 1990 and Madonna is arguably the biggest star on the planet. The Queen of Pop then unleashes the Justify My Love music video upon the unsuspecting world. While the song itself, written by Lenny Kravitz & Ingrid Chavez, is very poetic and genuinely great, it's the the video that got most of the attention (despite the song reaching No. 1 on the US Hot 100).
It displayed Madonna in scenes that were considered as soft porn by some and it resulted in the video being banned by MTV. It remains one of my absolute favorite to this day. In typical Madonna fashion, she decided to exploit the controversy and release the clip as a video single that sold extremely well.
Following the successful provocation of Justify My Love, Madonna decided to go even further in exploring and displaying her erotic fantasies. The result of this reinvention were the Erotica album and the Sex book, released simultaneously in 1992. Both projects were dealing with S&M and bisexuality among other taboo subjects. The Sex book became a huge success but the backlash hit hard.
Had Madonna gone too far? It seems the public bought the book out of curiosity and failed to recognize the irony in it or the message Madonna was trying to express. As a result, the Erotica album sold much less than her previous releases, which is a shame as I consider it one her best.
Once again, Madonna's great music was overlooked because of controversy. 1992 was also the year the Sharon Stone movie Basic Instinct was released, grossing $353,000,000. The stylish sex thriller's huge success meant that inevitably, copycats would soon follow. Madonna's wish of making movies was still as vibrant as before and production on Body Of Evidence started.
At first sight, it seemed like the perfect project for Madonna during this era of her career. On paper, the cast and crew assembled for the film is genuinely impressive. The film was produced on a then sizable budget of $30,000,000 by renowned veteran Dino de Laurentiis and the cast includes Willem Dafoe, Joe Montegna, Anne Archer, and Julianne Moore in one of her first roles. Director Uli Edel was hot from a few controversial films in his native Germany (including 1989's Last Exit to Brooklyn) and seemed like a great choice to direct this one.
Madonna's last films (A League Of Their Own and Dick Tracy) were also box office successes, effectively contradicting the notion that she was box office poison. Despite the controversy surrounding Madonna's other projects, there seemed to be hope that this film would be a success, as shown in the below featurette. What went wrong ?
Behind the Scenes & Interview
The plot of the film is fairly simple. A woman (Madonna) is accused of killing a man to inherit his millions by having sex with him. The woman's lawyer (Willem Dafoe) struggles to defend her as he becomes involved far more than he exepcted and begins to wonder if he is defending a murderer.
I think the big problem with Body Of Evidence is that we know from the beginning of the movie that Madonna's Rebecca Carlson is guilty of her crime while in Basic Instinct, we kept wondering all along. Brad Mirman's script is merely a rehash of Basic Instinct's best ideas. The screenplay is obviously problematic and is sometimes simply laughable. And poor Madonna gets the worst lines! Some classics include :
Have you ever seen animals make love, Frank? It's intense. It's violent. But they never really hurt each other. / We're not animals. / Yes, we are.
Or, even better : Don't look so hurt, Alan. I fucked you, I fucked Andrew, I fucked Frank. That's what I do; I fuck. And it made me 8 million dollars!
I say poor Madonna but she accepted to make this movie and to say these lines. So let's talk about her performance! Following A League Of their Own (1992) and Dick Tracy (1990), I knew that Madonna was able to give a great performance, something that was proven once and for all with 1996's Evita. However, here she deserves her Razzie Award for Worst Actress.
Just compare her to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (she basically plays the same character)! It doesn't help that the script is most of the times awful and that her character is the kind that can only exist in a Hollywood movie. It's far from a multilayered one as she seems to live only for sex and money. She is pure evil and noting else! Joe Montegna's character has a line that describes her in the film very well:
She is a beautiful woman. But when this trial is over, you will see her no differently than a gun, or a knife, or any other instrument used as a weapon. She's a killer, and the worst kind. A killer who disguised herself as a loving partner!
Ok this line is riduculous, as is Madonna's portrayal. However, she always has a strong screen presence and I can't help but look at her when she is in a scene. She dominates every frame, just like in her music videos. Also, I can't review this film without mentioning how great she looks in it. She's absolutely gorgeous and is terrific during the sex scenes. Fans of the Erotica-era Madonna might enjoy seeing her create a character that acts as kind of an extension of her Mistress Dita persona from the Sex book and he album. Madonna recreated her look from the film in her Bad Girl music video from her Erotica album.
Speaking of sex scenes, most of them are genuinely arousing and I think on this point the film could be favorably compared to any sex thriller of the era. Madonna and Willem Dafoe have a strange kind of chemistry together. While he is a very gifted actor, I'm not so sure if he was the best choice to play Frank, the lawyer. I think they look awkward together and I would have preferred if a younger actor like William Baldwin had played the part. He simply is not good-looking enough for Madonna.
This might seem superficial but for a movie that revolves around numerous sex scenes, I think it's important. The film contains way too much courtroom scenes. I am studying law myself and I can say that they are incredibly unrealistic as it is typical in a Hollywood feature (it would make a pretty boring film after all). But we reach a point at which it gets annoying; how many unexpected secrets can the witnesses have?
Julianne Moore has a very small part as Frank's wife and she gets to slap Madonna in the face during one of the courtroom sequences. Mrs. Moore later said during an interview that filming this scene was one of the most stressful of her entire career!
Moore got to play much bigger roles in much better movies and I believe she is one of the best actresses we have right now. Joe Montegna and Anne Archer are both great in their supporting roles but they are ultimately quite forgettable. On a positive side, the film is beautifully shot and looks expensive, unlike some other sex thrillers. The sex scenes especially are very beautifully lighted and the filmmakers managed to create quite an atmosphere.
The musical score was composed by Graeme Revell and I thought is was nothing special. Unlike Jerry Goldsmith's fabulous score for Basic Instinct, there isn't even a distinct theme for the film. What might differentiate the score from others is the presence of flamenco guitar in some tracks. Otherwise, it's your standard synth and orchestra atmospheric music.
There is no theme song for the film but the soundtrack CD release contains a track called The Passion Theme by saxophonist Warren Hill that is absolutely horrifying. You can't get more cliché than that. I think the film would have benefited greatly from a evocative soundtrack like Basic Instinct.
There were plenty of songs from Madonna's Erotica album that could have been theme songs for the film, the most obvious one being Thief Of Hearts, a song she reportedly wrote about actress Annette Bening (who married Warren Beatty, an ex-lover). A fan made a video using scenes from the film and I think it is worth a watch:
Watch it !
Body Of Evidence is what I consider a so-bad-it's-good kind of film and I enjoy it despite it's obvious flaws. Yes, Madonna is bad in it but she looks stunning and is always entertaining to watch. The movie became a box office bomb and was reviled by critics and audiences alike. It seems that people had enough of Madonna's overly sexual persona. Her acting was derided by everyone.
However, 1993 saw another Madonna movie released in Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game, in which she gives a mind-blowing performance that sadly wasn't seen by many (it also became a bomb). Following the relative failure of her Erotica album and the total disaster that became Body Of Evidence, some critics declared that Madonna's career was over. They couldn't be more wrong!
A few months after the release of the film, the sold-out Girlie Show World Tour opened and featured plenty of sexual overtones. Madonna proved time and time again that she would never apologize for her behavior (as evidenced in 1994's Human Nature song). She seems to have infinite belief in herself and managed to remain unapologetic AND successful since the beginning of her career. That is a true artist. She rose to the top again, blowing everyone away with her Bedtime Stories album in 1994 and the Evita movie in 1996 before embarking on her spiritual journey that would lead us to the masterpiece that is 1998's Ray Of Light.
Thank you for reading!