by Mel Valentin
The long-delayed, albeit unanticipated, sequel to 1992’s once-upon-a-time “controversial” box-office hit, "Basic Instinct," has finally arrived to a multiplex near you after more than a decade in development and several false starts involving “name” directors (e.g., David Cronenberg, John McTiernan, and Paul Verhoeven). The lesser-known Michael Caton-Jones ("The Jackal," "Rob Roy," "This Boy’s Life," "Doc Hollywood," "Scandal") eventually took the reins. The end result, though, isn’t anything Caton-Jones is likely to include on his curriculum vitae when he applies for his next directing gig (not that another director could have done better, given a badly written screenplay).Sharon Stone, of course, returns to the role that essentially made her career, Catherine Trammell, ice-pick wielding, bisexual femme fatale/mystery novelist. Back in 1992, Basic Instinct’s portrayal of a bisexual woman as a “deviant” serial killer courted media controversy and sparked protests by gay and lesbian groups during the film shoot in San Francisco. In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking the film’s depiction of lesbians and bisexuals as anything except as bargain basement, prurient hetero-male fantasy.
"Ladies and gents, Sharon Stone's last gasp as a lead actress."
Stone used her role in Basic Instinct as a springboard for bigger paychecks and nudity-free dramatic roles. Only three years later, Stone received an Academy Award nomination for her role as a drugged-out ex-stripper in Casino. Unfortunately, Stone’s subsequent career has been less successful, with lead roles few and far between (most likely a result of Hollywood’s age-discriminatory hiring practices). Her last “memorable” role was as the campy bitch-queen/villain in 2004’s Catwoman (which seems to have prepared Stone for her equally campy turn here).
Basic Instinct 2 switches up the original San Francisco setting for London, England. The sequel also jettisons the original’s lead character, Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), as well as other supporting characters. Only Catherine Trammell is back, but she’s (apparently) back to her old tricks, playing the (aging) femme fatale. In a variation of the original’s sex=death opening scene, Catherine’s affair with a top English soccer player ends with his death by drowning, as sex in a sports car sends said car and its occupants into the icy cold of the Thames River.
Scotland Yard brings Catherine in for questioning about the accident. Detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis), doubts Catherine is telling the truth, but has scant evidence to prove her complicity in the soccer player’s death. Washburn brings in a high-priced, presumably well-respected psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey), to evaluate Catherine’s mental state. Cue Catherine and Michael’s first meeting. He diagnoses Catherine as a “risk addict.” Catherine begins to consult Michael privately, and seducing him along the way with smoldering looks, innuendo-laden dialogue, and revealing outfits.
Michael also has to contend with an obnoxious reporter, Adam Towers (Hugh Dancy), eager to write a damning article on an old case of Michael’s. Adam also just happens to be sleeping with Michael’s ex-wife, Denise Glass (Indira Varma). Personal issues aside, Michael is up for a prestigious university chair which he hopes to get with the aid of his longtime mentor, Milena (Charlotte Rampling), and a bushy-haired, Eastern European-accented psychoanalyst, Dr. Gerst (Heathcote Williams). Still with me? Good, someone has to share the pain.
Pace Basic Instinct, Catherine’s writing a novel, this time centered on a psychiatrist (in the original, her central character was a cop). Like the original, the plot turns eventually lead to an ever-increasing body count, multiple suspects, red herrings, and one or two “startling” revelations along the way to the final denoument that spells everything out for us (or does it?). But with Catherine seducing everyone, right, left and center Michael doesn’t stand much of a chance in whatever mind game Catherine is playing with him.
Where to start in breaking down Basic Instinct 2? The preceding synopsis makes Basic Instinct 2 sound like a fairly routine psychological thriller. It is, but it’s much, much more (or much, much less, depending on your perspective). Putting aside the issues of Sharon Stone’s appropriateness for the role (she’s 48), Catherine’s credibility-stretching ability to seduce everyone around her with her ice-queen machinations, come hither glances, her “glamorous” couture (it’s not, actually), monologues about her sexual escapades (yawn), or non-erotic sex scenes, we’re left with a trying-too-hard, seemingly desperate Sharon Stone and a charisma-free co-lead in little-known Brit actor David Morrissey.
If Morrissey’s curriculum vitae is any indication (he's been working steadily in film and television for more than twenty years), he’s probably a better actor than Basic Instinct 2 indicates, but the paycheck and a lead role made it easier for him to accept the role. That doesn't stop Morrissey from looking lost or embarrassed every time he’s forced to utter another laughter-inducing line of dialogue. Then there’s the unmistakable lack of chemistry between Stone and Morrissey. It’s odd because Stone approved of Morrissey’s selection for the role. Other, better known actors, e.g., Robert Downey, Jr., Kurt Russell, and Pierce Brosnan, were at one time considered or considered the role, but left the production for a variety of reasons.But you want to know whether "Basic Instinct 2" is campy fun, right? In the right frame of mind, the answer is, well maybe. But "Basic Instinct 2" overstays its welcome by 20-30 minutes while the final, creaky revelations bubble up to the surface. With so much risible, quotable dialogue, new outfits for Sharon Stone in every scene (far too many animals sacrificed lives and pelts for her wraps), and middlebrow, prurient approach to sex (check out the Gherkin building, a real-world phallic-shaped building where Michael keeps his oversized, underfurnished practice), it’s easy to imagine "Basic Instinct 2" finding a second life with appreciative audiences at midnight screenings. Post-"Basic Instinct 2," Sharon Stone will be relegated to supporting roles or, even worse, non-working celebrity status.
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originally posted: 03/31/06 01:39:08