The New Flesh

When the few throb-inspiring young stars we had a couple of years ago started charging an arm and a leg for their services, new, gorgeous comers moved in to warm up the screen. Our intrepid reporter asks the man on the street (and the woman on the phone) to give us some feedback on who is and isn't doing it for the sizzle-starved masses.

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As anyone with eyes and properly discharging glands could tell you, we've seen a virtual gullywasher of fresh sexual charisma on the big screen in the last couple of years. Musk-slathered young thespians have been cavorting over the celluloid landscape like caribou enjoying their first estrus. And it's about goddamn time! In the ice age before Brad and Keanu broke big in '94, who was worth a moment's in-the-dark attention? And, for that matter, where were Brad and Keanu's ovarian contemporaries? Now, suddenly, there is no shortage of fun, beautiful, salty, hormonally pumped stars-to-be, and we and Hollywood have been rescued from the angry uprising we would've seen had Julia Roberts remained front-and-center as the increasingly obscure object of our desires. Long live the New Flesh--none of them are proven megastars just yet, but in the meantime, sit back and smell the electricity.

But what does it all mean, outside of the fact that the already established stars are just getting too goddamn expensive? Aw, who gives a fuck what it means? We know a crop of ripe, state-fair prizewinning cantaloupes when we see one, and that's all we'll ever know for sure. After a few of my friends started bringing up names like Alyssa Milano and Ben Chaplin in casual conversation, I decided to hit the streets in a full-on inquiry, asking acquaintances, family members, bartenders, perfect strangers, students, old girlfriends, health care professionals and sundry lowlifes which of the new or sort-of-new temptations at the cineplex turn on their gas for real. My survey population needed no credentials whatsoever beyond a working familiarity with movies and the mechanisms of human sexual arousal. It's the average moviegoing schlemiel who is, after all, the authority on this matter. No Hollywood hype can raise a spark where there's no juice to begin with.

Raw beauty, a la Cameron Diaz or Matthew McConaughey, is helpful to the endeavor of inspiring lust in dark theaters, of course, but qualifying as a sex object-- and sex objects are what we're talking about, let's not kid ourselves--involves a zillion vibey things, not just a gorgeous exterior. Whether you're a compulsive addict prone to performing Peewees in the gloomiest back row of the theater, or merely the kind of recreational abuser of cinematic fantasy who thinks he or she can quit at any time, you know sex is more about attitude than a buttock--even a buttock curved so gracefully it makes you want to hammer tenpennies with your forehead.

"I could drink Cameron Diaz," says my friend Dave, whose history with trashy women certainly bears out his point. "She's so gorgeous." Does this mean, I ask Dave, that she fits his personal ideal, the trash princess? "She may not be cheap," he explains, "but she's easy--sex leaks out of her everywhere. She could be wearing an asbestos suit and still look as if she's ready to do it."

The votes quickly piled up for Diaz. Scott, a business-major student of mine who never suspected that killing three credits with an elective film course meant suffering through Potemkin, chimed in for the sapphire-eyed Aphrodite, "She's beautiful but somehow smudged, y'know? You can see the experience in her face, but without it she'd be just ...pretty, y'know?" Al, my wistful Long Island mailman, also had major wood in his life for Diaz, especially after She's the One: "She's an angel with a hooker's sad smile."

Tragically vulnerable bad girls like the characters Diaz has played are one thing, but now let's talk Teri Hatcher. Hatcher's Cajun femme fatale in Heaven's Prisoners came across hotter than a lab mouse pumped full of estrogen, and if you add in her braless tramp in The Big Picture and her devious damsel-in-distress in 2 days in the valley, you see the foundation for a career of scrotum-roasting harlotry to rival even Yvonne De Carlo's.

"She wouldn't be half as sexy if she opened her eyes all the way," my friend Rick offered. "She's got a perpetual just-fucked look. And great, real breasts." (As much could be said for Hatcher's leggy, scene-stealing 2 days costar, Charlize Theron, who, in addition to looking Tefloned from all the sex she's had, also has lovely, indisputably real boobs.) My friend Gerry, a Manhattan adman, is enthralled by the slatternly glow of Vanessa Angel, the vampy gold digger/walking breast joke of Kingpin. "She's so been-there-fucked-that, she looks like she thinks of having sex the way Rush Limbaugh thinks of eating fried chicken."

The guys I ran names by to get reactions chirped out lots of little observations. But there was always one name that, when uttered, brought about a pause of tomblike silence: Salma Hayek. "Cheese and crust!" let loose Uncle George. "She's what we used to call in the Navy a real bombshell!" Hayek managed to make her dent in the American male psyche with small films--_Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms_ and Fled, but that dent is a crater compared to the impact made by most mortal actresses. A buxom, six-cylinder, comin'-at-you-in-sections dynamo of sexual force, Hayek reduces men to jungle noises and dockworker exclamations. "Oish" was a commonly grunted syllable, as was "Gofuda!"--which is code among my friends with young children for "god-fucking-damn!" "She could screw you till your feet shrivel up," said a too-Irish, barrel-necked bartender I asked. A nearby bar patron agreed ruefully: "I saw her in a movie, and my marriage hasn't been the same since."

Hayek represents the Outer Limits of sex appeal--nearly everyone I spoke to wondered if she was, in fact, real. Maybe that's why she doesn't have half the profile of, say, Ashley Judd, who is sexy while being pretty, if not beautiful, and is undeniably, attainably human. Kirk, a young UA Theaters worker I talked to as he swept up the popcorn and Crunch 'n Munch boxes claimed, "She's real, all right, you can't imagine them glamorizing her. You know when you see a beautiful woman on the street and you think, 'She's perfectly outfitted, she looks totally together, but for sure she's just had sex with somebody'? You think that because she's real--some bastard out there is incredibly lucky. That's how it is with Ashley Judd. I've never seen her in a sex scene, but because she's authentic, sex is part of her."

Which brings us to the male side of the equation, in the form of Matthew McConaughey, Ashley Judd's costar in A Time To Kill. The monsoon of hype accompanying McConaughey's leading-man debut in A Time To Kill might suggest he's a manufactured sex symbol, but from what I hear, he's everything you'd want and a side of fries, too. The most rabid homophobe would have to agree with the majority of women here--the man is a walking glandular epiphany. He looks like the statue of liberty, for chrissakes. Even my mother, deep into a movie-saturated retirement, is a McConaughey disciple (although I suspect she's been so thoroughly seduced because his accent reminded her of Waylon Jennings). "All that the-next-Paul-Newman stuff they were saying, it's no bologna," she told me. Incendiary comments like that were almost universal; McConaughey even spurred my sister-in-law Shari to say, "Let me put it this way: if they ever decided to make a movie about Apollo, he'd be it."

Someone as hyped as McConaughey stands a chance of being maligned as somehow less of an Actor just because the women and gay men of America want to pull him down on top of them. But we at Movieline don't buy into such popularly held tommyrot. Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard, John Garfield, Ingrid Bergman, Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis--they're ravishing and able to act their way through brick walls. The defense rests.

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