Should I Watch..? 'Body of Evidence'
What's the Big Deal?
Body Of Evidence is an erotic thriller film released in 1993 and is unrelated to the TV series of the same name. Released during the part of her career where she deliberately courted controversy over her image and lifestyle, Madonna plays the lead role of Rebecca Carlson who is the lead suspect in the murder of her lover. The film's racy storyline and nude scenes generated a huge amount of publicity but sadly, the film tanked at the box office. Critics derided the film for Madonna's poor performance and its blatant similarity to Basic Instinct released the previous year. In Japan and France, the movie was known simply as "Body" which, at least, gives a more realistic description of what the film is actually about.
What's It About?
Police in Portand, Oregon are investigating the death of Andrew Marsh who died of erotic asphyxiation whilst watching a video of himself having sex with his lover. Fairly quickly, they arrest the lover in question - blatant femme fatale Rebecca Carlson who stands to inherit Marsh's $8 million estate in his will. When traces of cocaine is found in his system, Rebecca is charged and she hires Frank Dulaney as her defence lawyer.
When the case goes to trial, Rebecca and Frank find themselves against the district attorney Robert Garrett who seeks to prove that Rebecca did indeed murder her lover in order to inherit his estate. As the case progresses, Frank finds himself drawn into Rebecca's world of kinky sex and soon begins an affair with her behind the back of his wife Sharon. With obvious consequences on Frank's perception of her, is Rebecca about to go to prison for murder or is she about to get away with it?
Release Date (UK)
16th April, 1993
Worst Actress (Madonna)
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Dafoe), Worst Supporting Actress (Archer), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay
What's to Like?
Pop stars seem to reach a point in their careers where a Hollywood vanity project is inevitable and usually, it proves to be toxic for their career. One only needs to think of the likes of Mariah Carey in Glitter or Britney Spears in Crossroads. But Madge's hideously ill-timed Body Of Evidence trumps the lot of them for the crown of Most Misguided Ego Project On Film. Nevertheless, there is some small fun to be had with it although nothing the film does helps. Madonna, for what it's worth, throws herself into the role like she's filming a documentary but the film does a great job of making her look like a professional femme fatale. Check out the moody lighting wherever she goes, the endless "come hither" looks and almost permanent cigarette smoke hanging in the air like bad gas. She even wear a beret, for goodness' sake!
However, the film is more than just Madge flashing her rude bits. The court-room scenes provide the film with its only real drama as Mantegna attempts to shrug off Fat Tony from "The Simpsons" and puts in a decent performance as the prosecutor who can see straight through Rebecca's charade. But the film treats these important scenes as distractions from the kinky sex we're promised but rarely receive. Yes, we see Madonna's body but frankly, who hasn't? It's not like she's the shy and retiring type...
- Madonna's acting coach quit before production began, claiming that "she thinks she knows everything." Despite this, her salary for this movie was higher than the rest of the cast combined.
- Neither Madonna or Willem Dafoe used body doubles in the sex scenes. Madonna described shooting them as "scientific, not sexy at all". Dafoe disagreed.
- Look carefully at the end of the trailer which contains a disclaimer stating that the film has no relation to the Patricia Cornwell novel of the same name. Cornwell herself lobbied to have the disclaimer inserted.
What's Not to Like?
I can't start this section without mentioning how miscast Dafoe is. If you want a leading man in a film such as this, you want someone who looks the part and (no offence intended) Dafoe doesn't look like your typical romantic lead. As a result, when Frank falls for Rebecca's naughty ways, he looks less like a charmed snake and more like a worm on a fish-hook. And speaking of the sex scenes, the film writes checks it can't possibly cash. We're told throughout the trial that sex with Rebecca is so good that it can kill you - frankly, I wasn't convinced. I've seen more sexual chemistry in an episode of "Sesame Street".
Its other big issue is how close it is to the much better Basic Instinct which also features a sexually adventurous blonde who lures men to their deaths and who attempts to get the lead character to get them off the hook. Like Body Of Evidence, it uses controversy for the sake of cheap publicity but unlike this film, Basic Instinct had solid performances from Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas as well as a slight element of doubt about the case. Here, there was no question in my mind who the killer actually was. I know that both movies were in production at the same time but I refuse to believe that the editors didn't look at how the competition was received and alter their film accordingly. It wants to be taken so seriously but Body Of Evidence simply can't hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven's skin-flick - even if it would want to pour the hot wax over it.
Should I Watch It?
Rarely do the words "erotic thriller" indicate a cinematic masterpiece and so it proves here. Body Of Evidence is a hopelessly shameless rip-off of Basic Instinct but with the thrill of having a huge pop star as the lead instead. Nowadays, it looks utterly desperate as the film itself seems to flatter poor Madonna's ego but it's a great example of the "so-bad-it's-good" school of thinking. Perhaps that's where I was going wrong...
Great For: Madonna's ego, Madonna's fans, Madonna's record and merchandise sales.
Not So Good For: grown ups, cynics, anyone hoping for a decent thriller.
What Else Should I Watch?
In case there was much doubt, Basic Instinct remains the erotic thriller to beat, even today. It stands head and shoulders above the likes of its contemporaries like The Boy Next Door, Killing Me Softly and In The Cut. It even manages to outshine its own sequel because a) they left it too long before deciding to do it and b) it too felt like a blatant, cheap rip-off.
Of course, sexuality in films doesn't mean it has to resort to exploitative measures. The Reader is a post-Second World War drama with Kate Winslet which examines both a relationship between differing ages as well as Germany's attempts to understand and accept its guilt after the conflict. Or how about Halle Berry's stunning performance in Monster's Ball which sees the relationship between her widowed single mother and a racist prison officer on Death Row being tested to its limits.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox