When it comes to the come-on, nobody does it better than Madonna. In the last few months alone, she’s hustled an album, Erotica, that wasn’t erotic and a $49.95 picture book, Sex, that wasn’t sexy. The suckers may howl, but her steely sales savvy has envious marketeers breathing hard. So, on the theory that Madonna is a turbo-tease with a major follow-through problem, let’s skip her two-hour movie Body of Evidence and jump to what really matters — the film’s two-minute trailer.
Trailers, also known as previews or coming attractions, have become the movie art form of the Nineties — or con game, depending on your point of view. A stylish trailer can help even a bad movie, such as “Dracula,” open big. It can use original material — to plug Toys, Robin Williams was filmed doing shtick in a wheat field (“I’m back, wind me”) — or a hit song (Whitney Houston’s MTV-friendly “I Will Always Love You,” from The Bodyguard). Trailers even have a life outside of theaters — TV stations such as E! Entertainment Television run them as regular programming. No wonder studios will pay as much as $500,000 per trailer to the companies that produce them. An effective one is money in the bank. The Body of Evidence trailer, whipped up by Fattal & Collins in Santa Monica, provides a useful peek into how it’s done.
Things begin with a roar. Not Madonna’s but the MGM lion’s. It’s a clever touch, associating Madonna with the classy studio that spawned Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. Maybe Body of Evidence won’t be the lurid thriller its title suggests. Still, this glitzy star package hardly seems a step up for German director Uli Edel after his art-house hit Last Exit to Brooklyn. And producer Dino De Laurentiis once worked with Federico Fellini. Only writer Brad Mirman seems to be making a wise move; he used to be in real estate. Anyway, miracles can happen.
Madonna needs one. She hasn’t been impressive onscreen since Desperately Seeking Susan, except when she played herself in Truth or Dare. The trailer introduces her dressed dowdily in a dark coat and scarf and looking stricken as costar Willem Dafoe approaches her in a cemetery. Just when you fear the worst — Ms. Blond Ambition turns Master Thespian — the trailer cuts to Madonna leaning over Dafoe in bed. You can’t tell for sure if they’re completely naked, since genitals are a no-no in trailers. But even Macaulay Culkin would catch the drift as Madonna, holding a lighted candle of prodigious width, drips hot wax on Dafoe’s nipples and heads south while he writhes in what passes for ecstasy. Madonna lets her upper lip protrude wickedly as she blows out the candle. Just when we’re all het up, three words, accompanied by a drumroll, are spelled out: body of evidence.
Next come flashes of scenes that let us in on what’s happening. Madonna is someone named Rebecca Carlson. You can tell she’s a babe with bucks by her killer wardrobe: silk pj’s with fuck-me pumps to match her mood in the boudoir and pearl earrings and necklace to match her innocent expression in court. The DA, played by Joe Mantegna, doesn’t buy her act. “She’s a killer and the worst kind,” he says. Dafoe, playing her lawyer, Frank Dulaney, insists that “the state’s case is built on fantasy, not fact.”
What’s the case? Says the DA, “You have a weakness for rich, older men with bad hearts, don’t you, Miss Carlson?” Says the orally fixated Rebecca, sucking on a strawberry, “He was a sixty-three-year-old man — he couldn’t handle it.” Frank sums it up best: “It’s not a crime to be a great lay.” There you have it. Madonna in the role of a woman accused of using her body to kill. She’s a lethal sex weapon. Hell, Sharon Stone needed an ice pick to dispatch her bed mates in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct.
The Basic Instinct parallels include the Germanic directors and the convenient battles to get an NC-17 rating changed to an R and reap lots of free press. But let’s stick to the trailers. Fattal & Collins, no fools they, know that Basic Instinct grossed $330 million world-wide. So they milk the Basic trailer shamelessly. Stone is a blonde suspected of multiple murder; ditto Madonna. Stone uses a handkerchief for bedtime bondage; Madonna uses handcuffs. Stone seduces Nick (Michael Douglas), the cop who protects her; Madonna seduces Frank, the lawyer who defends her. Douglas has a jealous girlfriend (Jeanne Tripplehorn) who warns him about Stone; Dafoe has a jealous wife (Julianne Moore) who slaps Madonna in a rage.
These femmes fatales even sound alike. Stone: “Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick? It’s nice.” Madonna: “Have you ever seen animals making love, Frank? It’s intense.” The dialogue is interchangeable. When Dafoe says to Madonna, “I must have been out of my mind to get involved with you,” we don’t hear her retort. But Stone’s line to Douglas in Basic would fit just fine: “Nicky got too close to the flame. Nicky liked it.”
The Body trailer trades on associations with other hit thrillers that Body would desperately like to be. Anne Archer turns up for a close-up that seems purposeless except to remind viewers that she was the cheated-on wife in Fatal Attraction. Likewise, Moore appeared as the sassy friend in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, for which “Body’s” composer, Graeme Revell, did the score. As the images add up — hands being tied, clothes being ripped, the smirking Madonna being forced to act — you have to marvel at the energy being expended to sell the same old sadism. But the job gets done. Anyone who wants to see more of Body of Evidence after this trailer is a glutton for punishment.