Fatal Instinct Review
Whilst the writing/directing trio of Zucker Abrahams Zucker, responsible for Airplane!, Top Secret or Naked Gun, are undoubtedly the most famous exponents of a scattershot approach to humour, Carl Reiner has been taking a similar path for almost as many years without any noticeable credit for his work. Where The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and All Of Me are seen as Steve Martin, Reiner gets a criminally low amount of recognition for his work, none of which was helped by the poor, slightly unfair critical reaction to Fatal Instinct, Reiner's spoof of that particularly late-eighties/early-nineties genre of the glossy, sexually tense thriller.
Fatal Instinct stars Armande Assante as Ned Ravine, a cop who works too hard, whose marriage to Lana Ravine (Kate Nelligan) is on the rock and whose secretary, Laura (Sherilyn Fenn) fears for the return of her husband abandoned at sea years before. As if this wasn't enough, Ravine is also a leading prosecuting attorney, at risk from a notorious criminal, Max Shady (James Remar), he helped put away and who is now coming up for release. Ravine's life, as exhausting as it is, is further complicated following the entrance of Lola Cain (Sean Young), a sexy femme fatale and suspect in a recent murder. Ravine, however, can't help falling for her, despite the dangers in doing so, made worse by her frequent and unnecessary use of an ice-pick.
With his wife and her younger lover, Max Shady and, in all likelihood, Lola Cain out to kill him, will Ned Ravine ever get the opportunity for a good night's sleep or will a bullet get in the way of putting his head on his pillow?
Fatal Instinct isn't really at all bad, certainly typical of other films in its genre in that it throws a sufficient number of gags onto the screen such that should one fail to connect, another will be along in a second. Mostly, however, these jokes work with a small number being as good as anything offered by ZAZ in Airplane! or Police Squad. One joke in particular, involving an airbag going off in a dodgem car during a police chase literally had this reviewer on the floor. Well...I mean, you had to be there really.
That there are also subtle, knowing and clever spins on Sleeping With The Enemy, regarding the return of Laura's husband, and Body Heat, resulting in Ned Ravine driving through Lola Cain's living room wall on a ride-on mower, do indicate that this is not as dumb a movie as it initially portrays. Flattering to deceive that may be but more than once it surprised this viewer simply by throwing in a quite unexpectedly sassy joke that sat ill-at-ease amongst the more achingly obvious fare on offer.
The biggest problem with Fatal Instinct is that it lets itself down by simply not being very capable at spoofing the films it has based itself on. Whilst films such as Body Heat, Basic Instinct and The Big Easy are all too clearly the targets on which Fatal Instinct has been directed towards, the differences between them are crushingly obvious. Despite the number of problems each one has, Body Heat aside for it is a terrific film, they do at least hold some semblance of eroticism. Fatal Instinct, on the other hand, is as erotic as the thought of cuddling up with Arthur Mullard. Sure, you might say, it's a comedy, it doesn't have to be erotic. Fair point...so why does it try then? Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, one of Carl Reiner's earlier films, worked because it held onto the logic of the world in which it was spoofing. Whilst it was largely ridiculous, Steve Martin played it perfectly straight, Rachel Ward gave a wonderful performance as a femme fatale and the interplay between these characters and Ray Milland, Humphrey Bogart and Veronica Lake held true. Fatal Instinct simply doesn't convince and, as a result, much of the humour falls flat. Had it been a little more steamy, maybe just a little more nasty then the jokes would have sat better. As it is, it'll be rated as alright by many, loved by few.
Regarding the acting, on which so much depends in a comedy, most of it is fine with Sherilyn Fenn and Armande Assante having the standout roles. Fenn is actually quite the revelation here having also seen her perform with all the acting ability of a bookcase in Two Moon Junction. Her performance in Fatal Instinct hits the right side of seriousness in a role that requires her to play it straight against an increasingly manic, bug-eyed Assante. Sean Young, on the hand, is as expressive as a hand puppet and whilst such blandness works with a number of roles, albeit ones that go unremembered at this moment, there is simply very little eroticism or humour in a part that requires her to be both.
Fatal Instinct has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks good, keeping the effective pulp sheen of the original print intact whilst ensuring it stays clean throughout.
MGM have presented Fatal Instinct with its original stereo soundtrack in place, which is sufficiently smoky and is perfectly in keeping with the feel of the movie.
Given that Fatal Instinct has been issued as part of MGM's Comedy range, it includes only the following bonus feature:
Theatrical Trailer (1m51s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a typical trailer in being little more than a series of highlights from the movie.
Fatal Instinct is alright but nothing awfully special, having the appearance of a film that disappeared into the television schedules off a limited, one-screen run in the cinemas. It's disappointing, more than anything else, as Carl Reiner can be a fine director when required with The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid being fine comedies but Fatal Instinct, despite having an excellent premise, solid cast (Sean Young aside) and a fair smattering of good jokes, simply fails to hold together with any conviction.
Still, in having first-hand evidence that this film can amuse a few people, someone very close to me laughed like a drain throughout, being a confirmed fan of ZAZ-sytled humour. Silly, obvious, occasionally clever...it's those things and more but if Hot Shots Part Deux does it for you, then you may add a few points to those scores on the right.