Released in 1992, the first Basic Instinct was a glossy, disposable piece of erotic-thriller trash that combined sex, death and stupidity. San Francisco cop Michael Douglas had to figure out if bad-girl novelist Sharon Stone was next in line for a killer's wrath – or if she was dispensing it. Directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by then-hot screenwriter Joe Eszterhaz, Basic Instinct was pilloried by gay and lesbian activists and roundly mocked by critics; it also made a not-unhealthy $117 million in the US alone. …
So, 14 years later, we get a sequel, which has the stupidity and comes short on the sex and death. Stone is back, but not Douglas; director Verhoeven has been replaced by Michael Caton-Jones (The Jackal, Rob Roy) and the script is not from Esterhaz but from the husband-and-wife duo of Leora Barish and Henry Bean. The action's moved from San Francisco, as well; Basic Instinct 2 starts in the streets of London, where Stone's Catherine Tramell is racing through the streets with footballer Kevin Franks (Stan Collymore) in the passenger seat, his hands all over what can be only called 'the swimsuit area,' when the car goes off the road and into the Thames. You might say the movie goes with them.
Catherine has to receive a psych evaluation before her trial, as the autopsy reveals Franks had enough drugs in his system to knock out a moose. Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey) is assigned to the case, and determines that Catherine has an unhealthy addiction to risky behavior; well, duh. The trial is thrown out, though, and Catherine comes to see Glass about private treatment; complicating his life even moreso is an investigation by glossy men's magazine journalist Adam Towers (Hugh Dancey) into a case where Glass's diagnosis released a man who then went on to kill his own girlfriend; worse, Towers is dating Glass's ex-wife Denise (Indira Varma). As Glass has sessions with Catherine and police inspector Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) is trying to make Catherine pay for what he sees as her crimes, other people start dying. …
And Catherine's none too impressed with Glass's insights, either: "That's the nightmare of shrinkdom, Doctor. Too many answers; too many questions; nobody gets laid." Is Catherine legitimately interested in help, does she just want to sleep with Dr. Glass … or is she the killer? Glass gets all hung up on Catherine, which is probably not the best possible idea; she's a too-smart sexual omnivore who has shreds of past lovers still stuck in her charming smile. Or, rather, that's the desired effect of Stone's performance and dialogue; what you get is something a lot more plain. Stone can put a little snap behind her dialogue – she explains how she and a lover went through "… the full, screaming, Masters and Johnson's Greatest Hits … " in the sack – but the combination of bad dialogue and bad acting makes for a pretty hard-to-watch piece of work.
Morrissey doesn't help, either. As Glass, Morrissey seems to be subscribing to the school of thought where acting is defined as something you do with your eyebrows, his forehead furrowing and releasing as the barometer of his character's tension. (It also doesn't help that Morrissey looks like, well, Morrissey – as Dr. Glass races through the streets of Soho after Catherine, I kept feeling like I was watching an unreleased video for The Smiths's song "Panic.")
There are films so bad – so leaden, so clunky, so clumsy – that they almost seem like they've gone past being the film to being the parody of the film, the Saturday Night Live or Mad Magazine version of itself. Basic Instinct 2 is that bad, and it's bad in every way – not just big ways like the wooden lead performances or the astonishingly weak script, but tiny ones like set design and lighting and editing. Complicating matters is the fact that the script follows a familiar Esterhaz-style plan, where almost anyone could be the actual killer; in the absence of story logic or real clues, you just sit there and endure the slashing and the shagging in the dank, greasy light of the realization that whodunit just doesn't matter.
Thewlis and Charlotte Rampling (playing Glass's confidant and peer Dr. Gardosh) slum nicely in roles that are very much beneath them. Thewlis can pull off material from Mike Leigh's scabrous London dramas (Naked) to supporting parts in big-budget epics (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), but he can't do much with the dialogue here: "She might have some talent as a writer, but when it comes to mind fucking, she's an all-time genius." Rumor has it that David Cronenberg was asked to direct Basic Instinct 2 several years ago, and , according to whispers, couldn't make the deal happen because the producers refused to acquiesce to his desire to re-write the script. A director with some sense of style – some kind of verve, some kind of look to their work – could have made something out of Basic Instinct 2; then again, what director with enough brains to have a sense of style would sign up to a naked cash-grab as plagued with development problems as Basic Instinct 2 was?
There's plenty of sex and violence in Basic Instinct 2. But the sex isn't sexy, and the violence doesn't have any point. I know I keep coming back to this, but it may be the biggest problem with the movie: There's no real logic to the movie, no tension to it. If anyone could be the killer – if we end the film still wondering which of three lead characters could have been behind the fistful of murders in the plot – then we aren't transported to a realm of curious engagement thinking about how the pieces fittogether. Instead, we find ourselves walking away from something too complicated and shabbily-made to justify the attention we've already paid to it. With artfully choreographed hair-flips, thrusting buttocks and carefully shot nude scenes, Basic Instinct 2 has the gloss and depth of a slightly risqué magazine fashion pictorial – and about the same level of interest in character, plot and story.