Body of Evidence (Uli Edel, 1993)

by Douglas Buck March 19, 2018 3 minutes (732 words) 35mm Quad Cinema, part of the Crimes of Passion: Erotic Thriller series

A successful defense lawyer (Willem Dafoe) finds himself in way over his head with the money-loving seductress (Madonna) he’s hired to defend after she’s been accused of, yes, actually fucking to death her filthy rich old man lover to the tune of his entire inheritance and is now intent on opening up the lawyer to his nasty side, to the harm of his wife and family.

Body of Evidence is one of those wonderfully indulgent attempts (and I stress attempts) at provocative neo-noir eroticism rushed into production immediately following the massive success of Paul Verhoeven’s astoundingly assured and wildly entertaining Basic Instinct from the year before; in fact, “Body” hues so closely with its coastal settings, style, story and characters, it’s surprising they didn’t get sued for copyright infringement. As similar as they are, however, if “Body” proves anything, it’s just how effectively constructed Verhoeven’s film was and how impressive Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas were at delivering those over-sexualized to the point of absurdity lines with such scenery-chewing gusto (then again, I’m not sure any actor could have made it through dialogue sequences that are so bad you have to wonder if the director Edel would have been better served playing them as parody, such as the infamous “Have you ever watched animals make love, Frank? It’s intense” that poor Madonna, never much of a thesp on her best day, is saddled with).

Madonna never comes close to rising to the level of a convincing femme fatale, but, to be fair, she’s not given anywhere near a developed sense of a female character who is an empowered manipulator and danger to patriarchal control (as Stone’s mystery novelist Catherine Trammel was in Basic Instinct). I’m not even sure, other than managing to get into all sorts of drugged out and sexually adventuresome relationships with lots of über wealthy older men, exactly what Madonna does for a living. One thing is clear, though, as influential and provocative as she’s been with her musical persona, she’s unfortunately equally incapable of emanating any sense of danger on-screen. I give her props though, she was certainly willing to get naked and go for broke (which I remain thankful for), but there’s an underlying awkwardness to her displays before the gaga defense lawyer… and it just reminds us once again of how perfectly cast Stone was in “Instinct”.

The court room scenes are so over-the-top sensationalistic and ridiculous, with surprise witnesses willy-nilly called all over the place, evidence admitted from out of the blue, a judge whose decision making as far as overruling and sustaining is just all over the map, sexual secrets revealed ad infinitum (including the shocking confession by the weeping Madonna that her last high-wire relationship with a rich guy played by Frank Langella ended not because he had an operation on his heart and she had no more chance at killing him as the prosecution contends, but that she walked in on him in bed with – gasp! – another man, providing one of the many perfect illustrations in how “Body” may fail in almost every way in comparison with “Basic”, but it certainly gets the underlying prurient perspective correct – after all, they’re both American studio films) and gasping jury members at every turn, you have to wonder how long it’ll be before a mistrial judgement is delivered.

There’s supporting character actors galore (including the then very popular David Mamet favorite Joe Mantegna as the cynical prosecuting attorney, a pre-fame, very young, baby fat faced Julianne Moore in the thankless role of the shafted wife of Dafoe’s defense lawyer who I’m sure looks back and wishes she didn’t bare all for this one, the sexy Anne Archer and the great pockmark-faced German Jurgen Prochnow who managed to emerge on the film scene with his brilliant performance as the doomed U-Boat Captain in 1981’s Das Boot and then descend into an underwhelming typecast Hollywood career as a sleazy heavy) and noir-style lighting add to the fun.

Body of Evidence may be a bad movie (okay, it is) when you consider it against any standard notions of cinematic quality, but — as a mindbogglingly misguided parody of the masterfully conceived, yet also vapid Basic Instinct? – its decadent pleasures, as prurient as they often are, remain numerous.

_Body of Evidence_ (Uli Edel, 1993)

This review is archived under the “Buck a Review” column, written by Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. To read more of Buck’s smart and snappy reviews, click on the column sidebar link.

Buck A Review