Pop superstar Madonna has always been more interested in maintaining a provocative image than in singing songs or using her real accent, but her emphasis on sex became especially pronounced in the early 1990s. That’s when she made her “Truth or Dare” documentary, recorded an album called “Erotica,” put out a book of dirty pictures called “Sex,” and starred in the movie “Body of Evidence,” in which she plays a woman accused of being so awesome at sex that she killed a guy. It had never been difficult to get Madonna to take off her clothes — you just had to promise there would be cameras present — and now she was taking her sex campaign to the next level. As a result, the three things that people of my generation will always remember about the early ’90s are the Rodney King riots and Madonna’s breasts.
“Body of Evidence” is the kind of trashy, cheesy “erotic thriller” that Cinemax was once known for, the only difference being that at least some of the women in those films could act. Madonna plays Rebecca Carlson, a gallery owner and amateur sexpot whose boyfriend, Andrew Marsh — a rich guy much older than herself — is found dead one morning, naked in bed, his lifeless eyes fixed on the TV, where a homemade sex tape starring himself and Rebecca is playing on a loop. All signs point to a heart attack: the man just couldn’t take the shock of learning he’d had sex with Madonna. But Marsh’s secretary, Joanne (Anne Archer), points to Rebecca on the videotape and tells the police, “She killed him.” Then she turns around and walks away, which is great for dramatic effect but not if you’re actually trying to be helpful.
The district attorney, a Joe Mantegna sort of guy who happens to be played by Joe Mantegna, puts together a convincing case. Rebecca had recently been named sole heir of Andrew Marsh’s fortune, so she had a motive to kill him. She admits to having had sex with him the night he died, so she had opportunity. And as for the murder weapon, well, have you seen her body? VA-VA-VOOM! Marsh, who had a heart condition, had cocaine in his system when he died. He’d also had a stuffy nose, and next to the bed was a bottle of nasal decongestant spray that had been laced with cocaine. The D.A. figures Rebecca secretly dosed him with coke and then sexed him up real good in the hopes it would make his heart explode. It’s the perfect crime … the perfect SEXY crime, that is!
The thing that the D.A. and everyone else keeps mentioning — indeed, the only thing the movie cares about at all — is that Rebecca and Marsh were into KINKY sex. KINKY sex because they were NAUGHTY! They used handcuffs and ropes and candle wax! And surely it was slutty Rebecca who introduced Marsh to these extreme practices, thus making her guilty not just of murder but of the more serious crime of enjoying sex.
Rebecca’s attorney, Frank Dulaney (Willem Dafoe), is dedicated to his job and will do everything in his power to make sure he gets paid (and also defend Rebecca, time permitting). He has a reputation for being a shrewd, aggressive lawyer, though every decision he makes with regard to this particular case is stupid and/or wrong. When the secretary testifies she once saw Rebecca snorting what she assumed was cocaine, Rebecca takes Frank to an herbalist’s shop and shows him the white powder she buys there regularly. Frank puts some of the stuff on his tongue and then says, “What is it?,” which is backwards from the order you’re supposed to follow when being handed foreign substances. (It’s powdered Chinese goat horn or whatever, and it’s for Rebecca’s menstrual cramps, and aren’t you glad you asked?)
Even though Frank has a perfectly good wife at home (played by Julianne Moore, no less!), and even though it would be unethical and unwise for him to have sex with a client who’s accused of murdering someone with sex, we know it is only a matter of time before Frank has sex with Rebecca. And he does. As it turns out, he is also interested in KINKY things! Rebecca pours hot candle wax on him and grinds his naked back against shards of broken glass, and then Frank thinks he can go home with burns and scrapes all over his torso without raising his wife’s suspicions. The reason for this, as implied earlier, is that Frank is a moron.
Meanwhile, Rebecca’s trial is taking place in a courtroom presided over by a judge who glares disapprovingly whenever something sexual in the testimony makes the gallery titter, which occurs every three seconds. Since there’s no way to prove that Rebecca intentionally used sex as a weapon, the D.A. sets out to prove that Rebecca has had a lot of sex in her life and is therefore the type of person who would use sex as a weapon. The trial becomes very sleazy, very quickly, like a really salacious episode of “Law & Order,” or a regular episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” The prosecution’s key witness is a man who testifies that he, too, was a rich guy with a heart problem, and that Rebecca dated him until he got a heart transplant, whereupon she dumped him because now she wouldn’t be able to carry out her plan to kill him with sex and take his money. See?? That woman’s hoo-ha has a rap sheet as long as your arm!
Part of what makes Rebecca so maddening as a character is her refusal to think about anything other than sex. She’s on trial for murder, not to mention supposedly grief-stricken by her boyfriend’s death, but after a grueling day of testimony she grabs her lawyer’s crotch in the elevator and then has sex with him in the parking garage. I submit that these are not the actions of a person who is taking her murder trial very seriously.
Madonna’s performance only makes it worse, as a Madonna performance is wont to do. She delivers all of Rebecca’s lines, even innocuous ones, in a breathy, seductive voice, her face locked in a lewdly playful expression, as if she’s always two seconds away from asking, “What’s your safe word?” The kicker is that the role was clearly written for her, and yet she’s terrible in it. How bad an actress must Madonna be if she can’t even play an oversexed woman who’s obsessed with money? She should quit her day job and take up singing or something.