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Body Shots

Review by Cynthia Fuchs
Posted 22 October 1999

  Directed by Michael Cristofer 

Starring Sean Patrick Flanery,
Jerry O'Connell, Amanda Peet,
Tara Reid, Ron Livingston,
Emily Procter, Brad Rowe,
and Sybil Temchen

Written by David McKenna

You know those movies that make you ask, "What were they thinking?" Those movies that make you wonder what any self-respecting writer or director or actor might have had in mind when they agreed to pursue the project, to point the camera, to say the lines? And the best thing about asking such questions while you're watching it is that it distracts you from what's going on o screen? Alas, this is one of those movies.

Maybe they're thinking that a movie about date rape written by David McKellar (American History X) and directed by Michael Cristofer (Gia) comes with a measure of built-in controversy. Or that it will generate meaningful public discussion about date rape. Then again, they might be thinking that Body Shots, chucky-full of sex and violence and gorgeous young white bodies in various states of undress and undulation, will advance their careers, or at least their exposure.

Whatever they're thinking, the movie is not likely to spend too much time on a cultural radar screen, given the current surfeit of so-called "youth" images on big and small screens. Ostensibly, Body Shots takes a dim view of its protagonists, self-indulgent 20-something professionals loose on the LA wild-nights club scene. But this critique -- unsubtle as it is -- is propped up by a certain... how shall I say -- salivation.

Its schizophrenic attitude resembles that of the "issue" episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, that lecture on the evils of raves or drunken sex, while also treating them as sensational car-wreck-like escapades. Actually, 90210 is more watchable than Body Shots, because it respects its characters (no matter how cheesy or trashy they may seem to everyday humans) and takes pleasure in their lessons learned. The movie, by contrast, seems frankly to despise its protagonists, which makes it difficult for you to care much about them.

Body Shots opens by introducing The Crisis (which is not to say that the movie doesn't presuppose that its 20-somethings don't live in a constant state of moral and social crisis). A beautiful blond, Sara (Tara Reid), arrives at her friend Jane's (Amanda Peet) condo, mascara running and forehead bleeding from a gash of unknown origin. Sara says she's been raped by her date, a self-adoring Oakland Raider named Michael Penrosi. On second thought, "date" may be too strong a term, in the sense that the film plainly deplores the ways that young people go out in packs and go home in one-night-only couples. There's no doubt here that Sara has paid a terrible price for her carelessness.

She's obviously been drinking, and she's also obviously been hurt in some way. You're asked to interpret what you see, but you only see moments: unlike Jane, you see Sarah drive hysterically in the rain, skidding and screeching in her upset state, and you also see that Sarah's cut lip is the result of her slipping on the steps to Jane's building, not a beating. She looks battered and horrified enough by the time she falls through the doorway ("I screwed up!") that Jane righteously goes into protective mode, holding her, smoothing her hair. When Sara lashes out at Jane's new almost-boyfriend Rick (Sean Patrick Flanery, Sarah Michelle Gellar's no-sparks romancer in Simply Irresistible) and he calls her a bitch, Jane does the correct best-friend thing: she tells him to get the hell out so she can take Sara to the hospital.

From here the film flashes back several hours -- in a sequence salaciously titled "Foreplay" -- to show how everyone has arrived at this awful place. Four girlfriends go through their giddy preparations for a night out. There's Sara fixing her make up and Jane adjusting her little strappy dress, there's desperate-to-get-laid Emma (Sybil Temchen) watching her friends and bleached blond-aerobicized Whitney (former weather girl Emily Procter) donning her waitress costume (she delivers trays of high-potency jello shots to dancers at the club where they're all headed). Meanwhile, the guys go to a bar to start drinking: Rick and his relatively shy office mate Shawn (Brad Rowe, currently appearing in TVís Wasteland) hook up with Big Mike and the group's designated Man Show representative, Trent (Ron Livingston), who arrives at the club wearing golf shoes and knickers.

Intercut into this set-up are shots of the characters talking to the camera in that faux-confessional mode, philosophizing about sex, fear of commitment, and more sex. No one wants to fall in love; almost everyone wants a fun night out, and absolutely everyone worries about how he or she appears to the others. These short-hands for Intimacy and Disclosure invite you to dismiss the characters rather than empathize with them, because their self-analyses are so fraught with banality.  For example:  "If there's pussy on the menu, I'm there," or "It's not about getting close to someone," or "It's like you're born with a certain number of hard-ons," or "I like to come, that's my favorite part, so shoot me."

As the night proceeds, no one gets anywhere near what he or she wants, much like they didnít on Melrose Place. Shawn likes Sara but watches in frozen shy-boy horror as she takes off with Manifest Asshole Mike. Rick likes Jane and vice versa but they both get so drunk that they can only collapse on her bed. Emma drinks three bottles of wine and ends up fucking Shawn in the parking lot, so that she can hate herself in the morning. And Trent goes home with Whitney, who delights him with some bondage routines, then finds himself in the gutter, almost hit by a car. As for Sara and Mike's story, you get to see both versions, neither necessarily believable.

Conveniently, Rick and Jane are both lawyers, so they (along with the cops) can listen to the different stories and warn their respective friends about the legal consequences of lying or being unsure in court (to her: your past will be dragged out in public; to him: your career might be shot). The film doesn't present any new insights into this morass, it only rehearses derogatory cliches: he says she's a psycho and a drunk, she says he's a bully and rapist. Neither Sara nor Mike actually remembers what happened, so the film pretends not to cast judgment, to make you decide. But the grander indictment made by Body Shots involves a contrived version of decadent youth, the version that gets self-styled experts on virtue all excited. Funny, though, it does make you appreciate 90210

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