Dangerous Game (108 minutes) 1993/Unrated – starring Harvey Keitel, Madonna, James Russo, Nancy Ferrara, Reilly Murphy, Victor Argo, Leonard Thomas, Christina Fulton, Glenn Plummer, and Richard Belzer. Directed by Abel Ferrara. Released through MGM/UA Home Entertainment.
If you’ve ever wondered what actors were talking about in interviews when they said a movie set can be a very tedious place, this “behind the scenes” glimpse at a low budget film production is the perfect example of banality. And I don’t mean that in an artistic, complimentary way. This movie is a waste of celluloid, period. And a complete waste of your time.
Filmed at the tail end of Madonna’s self-discovery “Sex” period in the early ‘90s, “Dangerous Game” didn’t titillate nor was it very dangerous. Harvey Keitel plays Eddie Israel, a New York director trying to bring out the best performance he can from a “big-name” LA actress (played by Madonna) in his new movie about the disintegration of a pair of swingers’ open marriage. James Russo plays the lead actor opposite Madonna in this movie-within-a-movie, and he is just plain despicable. Yes, his ‘character’ is supposed to be despicable, but I defy you to name one film Russo has acted in in which he isn’t obnoxiously loathsome. Sorry, but his acting just brings those feelings to the surface. With every piece of “shocking” dialogue he vulgarly spews forth at Madonna and others on the set, one can’t help but wonder if this fellow has an ounce of nuance or humanity in his real life.
The main focus of the film, if there really is one, is the decline of Keitel’s character into amorality and infidelity while he directs a picture on that very subject. No surprise here; everyone knows this is how the majority of Hollywood directors live their lives on and off the movie lot. As Keitel coaches his actors in his movie, his rants are utterly uninteresting because the movie he’s directing is so vapidly dull. It’s just two messed-up people, Madonna and Russo, pontificating inanity at each other. Oh yeah, and it’s also about Russo unrelentingly shouting, beating, degrading, and raping his on-screen ‘wife.’ Only actors within the low-budget buckshot of Tinseltown would find the abuse in this film something they could relate to. For all others outside the radar of the LA basin, this is the kind of narcissistic, pointless, navel-gazing experience that only borderline Hollywood denizens seem to have the time to examine and explore, let alone finance.
One example of ‘deep’ dialogue involves Keitel telling Madonna how he once had a nose bleed while having intercourse with a woman. As he saw it, his drops of semen and blood resembled pearls and rubies he had given her. Madonna praises him as being a romantic. Ugh! This pretentious claptrap of a story only seems remotely fragile when Keitel’s wife and kid show up at his LA hotel just moments after he’s schtupped Madonna’s character. His family’s one minute of naïve normality amidst Keitel’s ‘movie world’ histrionic excrement makes the viewer just want to take the wife and kid out of this picture and follow their adventures in another film altogether.
Madonna is able to cry on cue. So, I guess she displays some semblance of acting in this flick. One scene in which Keitel goads her highly-paid actress character to connect to a scene by continually saying, “Come on you commercial piece of s**t,” actually does convey some of the tenuous mind games that go on in the world of acting. But overall, she is treated like the proverbial slab of meat by both Keitel’s ‘director’ and the real film’s director, Abel Ferrara. Madonna told Details magazine, “I saw the movie and I cried. I just felt so deceived by Abel. It was my chance to prove once and for all that I could act, and he f***ed me over.” Don’t despair Madonna. Even if there were scenes in which you flawlessly achieved heights never attained in the entire history of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it would have been to no avail. This is a shallow, desperate piece of moviemaking.
© 2000 Ned Truslow