Basic Instinct 2 Review
I make no apologies for loving Basic Instinct. Paul Verhoeven's splendidly lurid detective story is in my opinion the greatest cheap thrill of all time. It's a film that has everything. As a film buff, you can enjoy the compelling star performances, Verhoeven's muscular direction, Jan De Bont's lush cinematography and the magnificent music score by Jerry Goldsmith. As an overgrown adolescent, you can get off on the car chases, the wonderfully overheated dialogue and the steamy sex scenes which still haven't lost their kick in the age of internet porn.
Michael Caton-Jones' very belated sequel, arriving some 14 years after the original, can't hope to live up to its predecessor and it doesn't. Basic Instinct 2 is a glossy but poorly-scripted stab at modern-day film noir that copies Joe Eszterhas' successful template too closely and too clumsily. There is some fun to be had watching Sharon Stone reprise her most famous role but you'd be much better advised to get hold of the first movie on DVD (I recommend the new region 1 Ultimate Edition) and remind yourself why it was the box office sensation of 1992.
The sequel opens with a sports car tearing around the empty, moonlit streets of London's Canary Wharf. The driver is Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), American heiress, bestselling pulp novelist and thrill junkie. The passenger is British football star Kevin Franks (real life football star Stan Collymore!). Kevin is pleasuring her with his hand as she drives, which is not a clever thing to do at 110 miles an hour on the streets of Canary Wharf, as they discover when the car plunges through a barrier into the depths of the lock. She survives, he doesn't.
Scotland Yard detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) suspects this was more than just an accident when the autopsy discovers in Kevin's bloodstream, traces of a drug that would have paralysed him. Catherine is charged with murder. To determine her state of mind, the prosecution hires criminal psychologist Dr Michael Glass (David Morrissey). After interviewing her, he tells the court she has a serious case of "risk addiction". She needs a sense of danger to feel alive. Getting away with murder is the greatest thrill of all.
Despite Dr Glass' testimony, Catherine is released and she surprises the shrink by turning up in his office, seeking therapy for her risk addiction. Reluctantly, he accepts her as a patient but he soon realises Catherine isn't interested in therapy, she's interested in messing with his head and with his life.
Shot by Hungarian cinematographer Gyula Pados, Basic Instinct 2 may not work as drama but it looks fantastic. London is presented as a sleek, steel-and-glass city of the future inhabited only by the rich, powerful and decadent. Every interior is vast and sterile and the gleaming new skyscrapers of the City and Canary Wharf tower in the background. A nice touch, given the subject matter, is the use of the phallic-shaped "Pickle" building as a major location.
Just as coldly beautiful is Sharon Stone, who still looks great naked in her late forties. She doesn't strip off very often though. Basic Instinct 2 has surprisingly little sex. There's certainly nothing in it that anyone could call "the fuck of the century". Apparently the American censors took their scissors to the film and this time Britain didn't get an unrated version. What remains doesn't suggest we're missing much. The only scene that sizzles is a clothed psychiatric session in which Catherine tells Dr Glass exactly what she thinks he'd like to do to her. In moments like this, Stone brings the film to life and reminds us that no one plays a killer vamp quite like she does.
If only she'd been given a half-decent foil, like she had in Michael Douglas in the original. Many critics have blamed British star David Morrissey but he's just playing the character he's been given. The problem is that the character is such an appalling wimp, it's difficult to believe that the great Catherine Tramell could find any challenge in messing with his head. Douglas's detective may have been out of his depth but getting involved with a burned-out, trigger-happy cop did at least constitute a risk. Dr Glass is a nerd who throws a tantrum when Catherine won't put her cigarette out in his office. Wouldn't David Thewlis' worldly policeman have been a more appealing victim? Or what about Charlotte Rampling, who plays a slightly wiser colleague of Dr Glass? Catherine is after all bisexual.
A dopey pushover of a hero is necessary however since the plot requires Dr Glass to be an idiot of titanic proportions. In Basic Instinct, Catherine had spent years spinning a ingenious web to trap her prey. In Basic Instinct 2, she simply tells lies and people believe them. Since these people are supposed to be psychologists, lawyers, journalists and cops, you would expect them to be a bit more sceptical about the word of the number one suspect in a murder investigation. The climactic scene takes this gullibility to such an extreme that it turns the film into a comedy. It's been a while since I've heard an audience laugh so heartily at a film that wasn't trying to be funny.
We, the audience, are expected to be just as credulous ourselves. Like its predecessor, Basic Instinct 2 relies for its suspense on an element of doubt about whether Catherine is guilty. Again, we don't see her kill anyone. Again, there are alternative explanations for everything. Again, a second potential killer is discovered late in the game. That worked fine in the first film but it can't work twice because this time we know who the killer is from the start. We all remember the last shot of Basic Instinct: the icepick under the bed. Are we supposed to have forgotten this or are we expected to think, "Oh but maybe she's innocent this time"?