Minor Madonna (assuming there's anything that could be called major Madonna). So, what, then, was the lure? The role of an S&M mistress (hair and makeup styled at the Eva Braun Beauty Salon) on trial for the murder of her weak-hearted lover -- allegedly screwing him to death after spiking his nasal spray with cocaine -- possibly appealed to her appetite for self-flattery. (The photography, excavating lines and creases through a mist of soft-focus and a thick crust of face powder, offers no gratification for that particular appetite.) And it affords her a platform for sounding off in opposition to prudery and hypocrisy and in support of freedom and honesty and other healthful outlets. (That white powder she shovels up her nose is not what you think, but rather Chinese Peony Root -- an aspirin substitute for monthly cramps.) Much, obviously, is riding on the outcome: not just the liberation of a solitary S&M mistress in Portland, Ore., but, through her advocacy of handcuff-and-hot-paraffin foreplay, the liberation of the entire species. Nonetheless, suspense runs low. From the orthodox dark-and-stormy-night opening (one can picture Snoopy sitting at the typewriter atop his doghouse) through the foggy half-lit courtroom and the firelit and candlelit "romantic" interludes, the mechanical mystery-making is a step above a TV program -- and not really a step above, but a step removed -- only to the extent that the characters occasionally use four-letter words and, if they are female, take off their tops. Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Julianne Moore, Anne Archer; directed by Uli Edel. (1993) — Duncan Shepherd
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