Hot And Cold Survival Skills

You may find this hard to believe, but the star of Body of Evidence, an actress named Madonna, actually reveals a lot of flesh in this courtroom drama. The exhibitionism, let me hasten to add, is entirely in the service of her character, Rebecca Carlson, a sexpot dominatrix who is accused of murdering her lover, an older man with a weak heart and a big fortune, by exciting him to death. The district attorney (Joe Mantegna) is intent on proving that Rebecca's body is a lethal weapon. Her defense attorney (Willem Dafoe), though a married man, believes in trying out the weapon himself. Discovering the kink in his own lustful heart, the lawyer and his client indulge in some sweaty S&M game-playing themselves: she pours hot wax on his tied-up body; they make love atop broken glass on the hood of a car parked in the courthouse garage; later, she brings out the handcuffs ...

Is Rebecca a murderous material girl, or just a lusty gal with a misunderstood lifestyle? That's the question that supplies the suspense in Uli Edel's slick thriller, in which "Witness for the Prosecution" cohabits with "The Story of O" and "Basic Instinct." Until it collapses into a silly shambles in the denouement, "Body of Evidence" is a fairly stylish entry in the currently ubiquitous femme fatale sweepstakes. As written by Brad Mirman, Madonna's role is so tailor-made for her that one might suspect she is reading outtakes from her best seller, "Sex" (there's lots of talk about liking to be "in control"). Made up in '30s ice-goddess fashion, she's still more an icon than an actress, but there's no denying the avidly smutty frisson she brings to the sex scenes. It's Dafoe's quiet conviction, however, that keeps the drama rooted in something resembling reality: he makes a theoretical role intriguingly human. Anne Archer also appears, not as a noble wife this time, but as the dead man's secretary, who seems a little too eager to pin the blame on Rebecca. "Body of Evidence" won't be remembered for classic plotting or brilliant legal gambits. But give it its due: it holds one's attention.

In 1972, a plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team to Chile crashed high in the snowcapped Andes. Many passengers died upon impact; the survivors, after their meager rations of wine and chocolate ran out, realized their only hope of staying alive was to eat human flesh. It's taken Hollywood two decades to get this true story of survival on screen, but director Frank Marshall and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley finally got it made, probably by pitching it as an inspirational adventure tale with a young-guns cast that includes Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano and Josh Hamilton.

Piers Paul Read's acclaimed 1974 book, upon which the movie is based, paid special attention to the social structure that evolved among the group: the emergence of a warrior class and the counterbalance of a civilian government that looked out for the welfare of the weak and wounded. Marshall ("Arachnophobia") downplays the fascinating sociologial details-and the ambiguities of character-in favor of action, heroism and a vague religiosity that's sprinkled over the story like powdered sugar. "Alive" does best what Hollywood movies usually do well: a thrilling crash, a terrifying avalanche, heart-stopping cliffhangers. But as an examination of the mystery of character under pressure, it doesn't probe very deep. The young cast (awfully robust after 70 days of hell) is somewhat erratic; after two hours of close contact with these boys, one barely knows them. Hawke, however, has subtle authority as the heroic Nando Parrado: he's got a face for which close-ups were invented. Marshall is a good technician, but there's no sense of artistic adventure in his sometimes exciting, sometimes draggy movie. He's content to scratch the surface of a great and harrowing story.

Join the Discussion