There's something endearing, in a Sensitive Guy way, about Marshall Herskovitz's feminism. With Dangerous Beauty (Warner Bros.), based on the life of 16th-century Italian poet and courtesan Veronica Franco, this producer of Legends of the Fall has said he wanted ''to look at something that has been pushed down in our culture, the power of a woman's sexuality.'' I'm not convinced that long-lasting lessons about gender and power can be drawn from this throbbing romance paperback of a historical drama, in which one attractive, quick-witted woman saves Venice (and preserves her own self-esteem) by sleeping with most of the city's alpha males. But I'll defend to the death Herskovitz's right to shoot scenes like the one in which Veronica (Braveheart's Catherine McCormack) learns from her hot-ticket, practical-minded mother (Jacqueline Bisset, who's still got it going on) how to ingest asparagus in ways Linda Lovelace might recognize.
Dangerous Beauty casts a skin-tone-enhancing pink light on its proceedings (and here I thought nobody bathed throughout the 1500s), and even the plague that nearly wiped out the populace is photogenic. But I don't mind: A bosom heaver about a woman of modest rank who becomes an influential call girl when she realizes she'll never be able to marry the upper-class gent she really fancies (Dark City's Rufus Sewell, smoldering as fast as he can) requires lots of lush, Legends of the Fall-type photography and breathless dialogue like ''You must know pleasure to give pleasure.'' This has got both. B- -- Lisa Schwarzbaum
Dangerous Beauty STARRING Catherine McCormack Rufus Sewell RATED R 155 MINUTES