If you can figure out what this film is about you might be a
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 07/02/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If "Body Shots" did not start with scenes of a young woman bruised and bleeding, obviously the victim of a sexual assault, the abrupt shift that this 1999 movie takes would have been similar to those who went to see "Million Dollar Baby" thinking it was just a boxing film. Indeed, even having been shown what is going to happen to one of these characters and knowing that we are seeing the events that lead up to the incident it is easy to forget that is what lies ahead in the first half of "Body Shots," which was written by David McKenna ("American History X," "Blow") and directed by Michael Cristofer ("Gia"). That is because the early part of this film involves lots of direct to camera statements by the characters, and then after the pivotal incident the fourth wall is slammed back up in our faces.
The scope of the film is basically 24 hours in the lives of eight young, attractive people trying to live and have sex in L.A. The four women are Jane (Amanda Peet), Sara (Tara Reid), Whitney (Emily Procter), and Emma (Sybil Temchen), and the four men are Rick (Sean Patrick Flanery), Michael (Jerry O'Connell), Trent (Ron Livingston), and Shawn (Brad Rowe). The two quartets meet at a club, engage in heavy drinking and end up pairing up for the night. Jane and Rick seem to be the smartest of the bunch so they end up together, while Sara leaves with Micheal, who plays for the Raiders. The thing is, Sara has been dating Shawn, who responds to this affront by taking Emily out to the alley. That leaves Trent to end up spending the night with Whitney, who turns out to have another side to her sweet disposition.
There is a strong documentary-like element to the first part of the film, where most of the characters get to weigh in on various matters, usually sexual, that are under discussion. This allows us to get lots of views about everything from what constitutes "sex" to whether or not teeth are a good thing to bring into play during a particular endeavor. However, given what is going to happen in this film these exchanges of personal philosophies are not simply an opportunity to run the gamut of viewpoints but an opportunity to judge the characters. This will become critical in trying to make any judgment as to what really happened between Sarah and Michael.
Sara says that she was raped by Michael and he denies it. When he hears the news Trent says he could totally see that happening. What we see is first his version of what happened and then her version of the same events. The obvious cinematic reference point would seem to be to "Rashomon," but "Body Shots" does not get that far. In Akira Kurosawa's film we had three different versions of the same story, each of which revealed something about the character once you established their motive for distorting what happened. Here we have only two versions, the basic "she said/he said" dilemma. But at the end of "Rashomon" we do get the "truth," as the woodcutter confesses he saw what "really" happened, an understanding that allows us to go back and reconsider the other three stories a second time. But "Body Shots" does not get to the "truth" and we do not know what really happened.
This will drive some viewers to distraction, and obviously has. However, it is significant that Jane and Rick, who are the two smart ones, do not have to decided whether they believe Sarah or Michael, because they do not hear both stories. Jane only hears what Sarah has to say, and Rick, as Michael's attorney, only hears his side. But even without hearing the other side, each has to decide whether at face value they believe their friend. The chilling part of this story is that since both sides are believable (Michael is truly amazed and outraged while Sarah is really bruised and bleeding) who we decide to believe could be based entirely on our gender. Guys will believe Michael and women will believe Sarah, and what implications are we to draw from that rather chilling impasse?
Ultimately, the problem with "Body Shots" is not that we are left to construct our own meaning from these events and render our own personal judgment as to whom we believe (with an emphasis on being able to explain why so that there is an actual articulation of reasons as opposed to going on a gut instinct based on gender), but that the approach of the first half of the film contrasts too much with the second. These characters are glib when it comes to talking about sex, but is this just a stylistic approach of the film, a way for the writer to show off with all the outrageous topics and thoughts he can have come out of the mouths of these characters, or is it a lesson in itself? Because if the second part of the film does not teach a clear lesson, perhaps the first half does. Maybe the second part is not the wake up call, maybe it is the first half and that when Sarah assures us that sex is "just sex" she has doomed her character to her fate."