Bad Cinema: Body of Evidence (Dir: Uli Edel, 1993)

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Madonna is the gift that keeps on giving.

If you love her, there is ample evidence to support that she is one of the world’s most important, memorable, exciting, versatile, and yes, talented performers of the 20th Century. For me, her greatest era is 1989-1994. From that “Vogue” performance at the VMAs in full Renaissance regalia to the epic brilliance of the Blond Ambition and Girlie Show tours and the underrated successes of her three forgotten albums (I’m BreathlessErotica and Bedtime Stories), Madonna pushed sexual and artistic boundaries to their edge of glory, culminating/tailspinning with the infamous book, Sex.

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And if you hate her, there is ample evidence to support that she is a shameless, horrible person that fucked her way to the top, treating everyone like a used tampon along her never ending quest for more fame, more adoration, and more money.

If you belong to the latter camp – where even a lifer like me is finding himself these days – there is a schadenfreude effect when it comes to her “acting.” Since “Madonna” (whoever this person is) lives, as Warren Beatty said, her whole life on camera, it is most ironic that she is so unbelievable on film. You see the wheels turning, trying at (most) every moment to remain in control of the character, the other actors, and her most sacred image. It reads as hilariously false, putting us at a football field’s length from any kind of genuine emotion; possibly because Madonna herself can no longer (if she ever could) differentiate the public’s persona from the real McCoy (watch Truth or Dare and see the ridiculous blurring of the lines on full display).

*I will grant Madonna two passes: Desperately Seeking Susan (where she is playing herself) and A League of Their Own (where she is allowed to rely on her comedic chops and is blissfully not the star). Even Evita is heavily affected and if J. Randy Taraborrelli is to be believed, she was a hot bitch who demanded control of the film after practically begging to be in it in the first place.

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And then there is Body of Evidence, the trifecta in the overexposed sexual crown of Erotica and Sex. It is impossible to mention one of these without grouping them together (which is a pity for her neglected masterpiece, Erotica, featuring the magnificent “Rain”…watch the end of The Girlie Show‘s first act and tell me she’s not radiantly legendary)…

 

…causing her critics to yell foul with claims that she had gone too far (which she had…past the point of camp to just plain laughing at her).

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Madonna plays Rebecca Carlson, a sexy art curator that is charged with fucking a man to death, making her the titular weapon. She claims their sadomasochistic activities were merely games, mutually beneficial and all about love; the prosecution paints her as a cold blooded femme fatale, out for the old guy’s money the minute she found out he had a heart condition and millions in the bank. Willem Dafoe is her court appointed attorney, sucked into her web of seduction, even to the point of cheating on his wife, Julianne Moore (in one of her last slumming-it roles before Short Cuts catapulted her to stardom).

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Body of Evidence is a blatant rip-off of Basic Instinct in style, form, and content. Both films begin at the scene of the crime, witnessing the murderesses in flagrante dilecto. The snarky detectives make snarky comments about the lewdness of the crimes that read somewhat misogynistic and forced in their “daring” and the authority figures are “transformed”/manipulated by their quarry. But while Sharon Stone mops the floor with Michael Douglas and gives us a fully layered, Oscar worthy turn as the best modern day Stanwyck since Kathleen Turner, Madge turns in an embarrassingly flat, calculated performance that demands we see Rebecca as Dita, her dominatrix character from Erotica and Sex, right down to the sexy voice from “Where Life Begins” and that silly beret from the “Bad Girl” music video, taking us out of the film at every turn, yet avoiding the obvious parallels in interviews.

*I grant Madonna TWO moments of good/believable acting: the strawberry scene in the restaurant, explaining her lust for pain, and her tearful testimony on the stand, confessing she caught her lover in bed with another man. What could read as Madonna-being-Madonna moments, we temporarily see past her bullshit and lock into the character’s psyche (I am dying for a great director to break her down and call her on her foolishness!)

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But Body of Evidence does not (completely) fail because of Madonna. The script is laughable with lines like, “Have you ever seen animals make love, Frank? It’s intense,” lacking Basic Instinct or even a lesser erotic thriller’s requisite humor. BoE takes itself way too seriously and doesn’t have the gravitas to back it up, no matter how much you want to light Madonna like she’s Dietrich. (Incidentally, the end of the film is heavily inspired by the finale in Witness for the Prosecution, one of Dietrich’s most iconic roles – drawing a subtle comparison to one of Madonna’s idols and most obvious inspirations…). And as hard as Willem Dafoe tries – and he is trying his best, folks – we simply do not care about him, his career, his case, or his relationships with his wife and client. Maybe if Rebecca were played by Rebecca De Mornay (watch it again and imagine THAT!) we would have felt something. Or maybe if the writer had taken any time at all in developing the characters’ wants and needs instead of just relying on the “scintillating” nature of the material to engage the audience, we wouldn’t be checking our watches 20 minutes in.

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While Madonna intended Sex to be ironic, Body of Evidence unintentionally carries over its antiseptic sexual vibe. We are so assaulted with being told what we are seeing is sexy and shocking, that is ceases to be either.

***RIP VAN WINKLE***

*The best moment in the film…

 

Bad Cinema: The Big Wedding (Dir: Justin Zackham, 2013)

I better get this all out before my brain decides what it just witnessed for the past 90 minutes was beyond horrible, embarrassing career lows for its talented cast and begins to forget every ridiculous frame.

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Whatever critic called this “pure comedy gold” needs to have his head examined.

I was warned by more than one person that The Big Wedding was dreadful. Katherine Heigl was nominated for a Razzie (although how they singled her out from this pay-check cashing ensemble seems random), and it has a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes. I knew what I was getting into and yet stayed the course. The sacrifices I make for my readers.

We must start with the script because it is LaShawn Beyond, honey. The film should really be called The Big Failure. Or The Kitchen Sink. Because if you can think of something, it’s here, piled up like dirty dishes, growing mold.

Don (Robert De Niro) and Bebe (Susan Sarandon) are about to have oral sex on the kitchen countertop when Ellie (Diane Keaton) decides to let herself into her old house and catches them in the act.

“Thanks, bitch. I was just about to get head.”

You see, Ellie and Don used to be married years ago until Ellie’s best friend Bebe broke up their marriage. She and Don built this house, built their family (Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, and adopted “Colombian” son played by British actor Ben Barnes…). But there is no acrimony. They are all still great friends. Time, it seems, has healed these wounds. Except for Lyla (Heigl). She refuses to forgive her father – 10+ years later – for destroying their family. Even though everyone at the grown-ups table seems to have moved on.

"I promise I'm not Caucasian."

“I promise I’m not Caucasian.”

The eponymous wedding is to take place between Alejandro (I bet you can guess which son that is) and WASPY Missy (Amanda Seyfried), much to the chagrin of her bigoted parents (Christine Ebersole – rocking a crazy wig – and David Rasche). Having a Latin son-in-law, one that is lighter skinned than Topher Grace btw, is a blemish they want to keep hidden from their other friends on the Reagan Terrace. But they are not the (major) problem. Turns out, Alejandro’s birth mother is coming to the wedding! This die hard Catholic woman (named Madonna…I’m serious….) would just crumble in disappointment if she found out that her son’s adopted family were raising her little boy in sin. So what to do? Tell his birth mother – you know the woman he has maybe seen a handful of times and is somewhat inconsequential to his daily life and happiness – that, Hey my parents are divorced and you are just going to have deal? Nope. He would rather have them pretend to still be married and chuck Bebe – the woman who served as mother through the difficult teen years and beyond – to the curb. Again, all because he is too much of a wimp to just be a man and fess up to his mother. To fess up to his mother about something that doesn’t involve HIM at all, but others. I wanted to yell at Amanda Seyfried through my laptop to run for the hills from this man who is obviously too immature for marriage.

So the deed is done. Bebe moves into a hotel and Ellie moves into the house. But again. No acrimony. Therefore no drama, no stakes. No stakes. What am I saying? There are so many other logs in the fire it’s amazing that the screenplay just doesn’t ignite from the heat of its own bullshit. Let’s list them, shall we:

– Jared (Grace), a 29 year old virgin, tries to bed Alejandro’s birth sister
– Bebe is the caterer for the wedding
– Lyla has left her husband because they fought too much over her inability to have children…and is now pregnant! But wants to make sure they are staying together out of love and not obligation
– Don is a recovering alcoholic sculptor who is afraid that his greatest work will never come now that he is sober
– Ellie tries to get Don to propose to Bebe
– Don and Ellie sleep together, but there is no confusion about emotions and Bebe is cool with it because she started as the mistress; Ellie slept with Missy’s dad years ago and Missy’s mom is a part time lesbian
– Madonna actually isn’t as rigid in her faith as everyone thinks, Alejandro himself a product of a teenage affair she had with a married diplomat
– and to squeeze one more ounce of star power from this turd, Robin Williams plays the ex-alchy priest that has lines like, “Matrimony is God’s greatest gift to his children. It should be sanctified, nurtured, and protected against the seeds of descent, which often lead to the chasms of discord, which too often today’s unions are not able to recover. It often leads to divorce!”

Give it up, Robin. No amount of prayer will forgive you for this garbage.

Give it up, Robin. No amount of prayer will forgive you for this.

The whole damn affair plays out like it was made as a drawing room comedy in the ’40s with its archaic rigidity and broad humor that was released without the Hays’ Office seal of approval, allowing a bevy of boring sex jokes to creep in. The most astounding head-scratcher is that such luminaries would slum it in such obvious garbage. It’s not like this was a good idea gone bad. It is apparent from the script that it is trite, sophomoric, and void of genuine jokes. And yet we got Oscar and Tony winners prostituting their talent, probably for scale. (You want to really see someone prostituting their talent AND really cheap sex jokes, tune into Sullivan and Son on TBS. Talk about Christine Ebersole laughing all the way to the bank…)

I’m not sure what De Niro and Keaton have been doing to their careers for the past decade (or two), but seriously it needs to stop. (I shutter to think where Nicole Kidman will be when her plastic surgery makes her suitable for nothing but Grand Guignol…).

To fully capture how bad this movie really is you would have to watch it for yourself. It’s awfulness washes over you like a sea of tears collected from mothers who have just had an abortion. This whole movie feels like complications due to a premature birth, labor pains and all. Maybe if Zackham had taken another month with the script, maybe if the actors had given a little more consideration for their legacy, we would have had something that didn’t seem so half baked. I’m embarrassed for everyone involved and spent the whole movie wishing I were watching That Old Feeling.

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“Hey remember when we made MARVIN’S ROOM?” “Shut up, Diane. Your awkward schtick is giving me a headache.” “La-di-da, Bobby. I worked with Woody Allen!” “Yeah. 21 years ago.” “I don’t see Marty calling you! That little DiCaprio kid has taken your place, buddy!” “What the hell happened to us?” “God, I wish I knew.”

 

***CAR CRASH***