Madonna's new film is director Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game, one of those self-indulgent film-within-a-film exercises. It's hard to tell exactly where art imitates life and life imitates art in this one, but it doesn't really matter; it's so bad no one will care. Harvey Keitel stars as a pretentious director (like Ferrara) named Eddie Israel making an overwrought piece of crap (like Dangerous Game) called Mother of Mirrors. Eddie's wife Madlyn is played by Nancy Ferrara, the real-life director's wife. Madonna plays Sarah Jennings, an actress of questionable talent (!), who uses sex to advance her career (!!). She is costarring in Mother of Mirrors opposite James Russo's Francis Burns, who doesn't like her much because he thinks she can't act (!!!).
"You're a half-baked nobody," he berates her, and you can be forgiven for wondering whether that's Russo talking to Madonna or his character talking to her character.
Of course, Russo is no prize either. His Francis is an egomaniacal, coke-snorting, booze-slurping, sport-fucking jerk whose character in Mother of Mirrors possesses all those endearing qualities and more. Russo's idea of characterization consists of screaming at the top of his lungs, and then screaming louder for emphasis. Francis's character in Mother of Mirrors is mad at his wife because she's undergone a religious conversion and no longer wants to get stoned and go to orgies with him (reasonable enough requests, right?). He believes that getting drunk, doing coke, and having multiple sex partners are -- get this -- spiritual needs that she should help him fulfill. If Ferrara means this as satire, he doesn't leave any clues.
Madonna is alternately shrill and catatonic as the actress in the insipid film-within-a-film; when she's not supposed to be acting, she sleeps around a lot. What a stretch. Russo's performance is loud, hysterical, and obnoxious; Madonna alternately sulks and bitches, two modes of behavior you'd think she'd have down by now. But she's so bad she almost makes Russo look good. Almost.
Poor Harvey Keitel. You want to pull for the guy, but he should have known better than to get mired in this mud. Keitel, who has been single-handedly trying to advance the cause of male frontal nudity in modern cinema, displaying his full birthday suit in both Bad Lieutenant (a Ferrara collaboration) and The Piano, struggles gamely, though ultimately he must shoulder some of the blame. After all, choosing material is an important part of the job. Here's some actual dialogue from a scene in which Keitel's character is trying to charm Madonna's. Remember -- it's not supposed to be funny:
Keitel: "I got a nosebleed while making love to my wife. I gave her my cum and my blood at the same time. So I gave her a diamond and a ruby to commemorate it."
Madonna: "I didn't know you were a romantic."
Maybe the prospect of keeping his penis in his pants impaired Keitel's judgement. Whatever his reasons for taking the part, Eddie Israel is not going to be remembered as one of Keitel's better turns. If he's lucky, it won't be remembered at all.