Dangerous Game (1993)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Marriage Drama, Showbiz Drama  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

Although it's a bit of a self-indulgent mess and its philosophical debates aren't written well enough to truly engage, this reteaming of bad-boy director Abel Ferrara with his Bad Lieutenant star, Harvey Keitel, is notable for the surprising strength of Madonna's performance. As Sarah Jennings, a television star striving to forge a career as a dramatic actress, Madonna -- a pop star who's been striving for years to forge a career as any sort of actress -- seems less mannered, more off-guard, and more affecting than she ever has before or since. Dangerous Game's self-referential structure -- big-name celebrity known for bedding her leading men stars in film about big-name celebrity who promptly beds her leading man -- could probably keep an assistant literature professor churning out post-structuralist analyses for an entire semester. Nonetheless, there is some fun in speculating how much the lines Keitel's character spits at Madonna's character stung the performer in real life. "You'd still be selling toothpaste if it wasn't for me," Eddie barks as the camera rolls, and it's hard not to substitute the phrase "making music videos" for "selling toothpaste." In interviews, Madonna complained that the final edit was nothing like the original pitch Ferrara gave her, which perhaps explains why her company underpromoted the film upon its release. Ultimately, though, it's Keitel who stands in for Ferrara and gives the film its nasty center; the director even cast his real-life wife in the role of Eddie's wife, further blurring the line between the real and the cinematic. In the end, despite Ferrara's pretensions that both his film and its film-within-a-film get at deeper issues of spirituality and self-determination, Dangerous Game can best be appreciated as an exercise in celebrity exploitation with just the thinnest veneer of art-house cred.