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Catherine McCormack, in all her splendor From the opening scene—a sumptious shot of Catherine McCormack staring at the camera with her most erotic glare, then a single rose falling in slow motion into Venetian waters—you know you're in for a Prototypical Chick Movie. "Dangerous Beauty" (my vote for Worst Title, by the way) doesn't disappoint: it has all the European imagery, tightly-laced bodices, swooning courtesans, flowery verse, tortured heroes and tragic redemption you can possible ingest. It's also not half bad.
McCormack, whom most of you will remember as the short-lived wife of Mel Gibson in "Braveheart," takes a turn as Veronica Franco, a woman unsatisfied with her position in life as bride-to-be, a station that is second only to jail in terms of its personal freedom. Her mother, played with steely tenacity by Jacqueline Bisset, knows she is destined for something more, and trains her to be a courtesan.
Now being a courtesan in 16th-century Venice is an interesting proposition; sure, you have to have sex with everybody who asks nicely (and has the cash), but you are also well-travelled, well-read, listened to at parties, afforded the company of kings, and hold more influence over the Affairs of State than most senators. The issue of this "caged liberation" is the best part of "Dangerous Beauty," the dichotomy of the shackled wives/freed whores making for a fascinating juxtaposition amidst the backdrop of wars and plague.
Rufus Sewell does a nice job as Veronica's first and true love, his deep-set eyes giving him a visual depth that the dialogue often doesn't muster. Don't kid yourself; this isn't "Dangerous Liaisons" or even a decent Merchant Ivory film. It's pretty trashy, full of seen-it-comin'-for-a-mile plot twists and a lot of cardboard cut-outs for characters. But its surprisingly honest brand of feminism, an electrical charge that runs through McCormack clear to her final, wonderfully acted courtroom climax, provides more than enough fun and catharsis for your movie dollar. Gorgeously shot by Marshal Herskovitz (he of "thirtysomething," but don't hold that against him).
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