Saturday, April 01, 2006

REVIEW: Basic Instinct 2

A little bit of Film History 101 for those for whom cinema-consciousness doesn't extend back to 1992: The original "Basic Instinct" was the nominal high-point in a pair then-booming Hollywood trends: The "erotic thriller" (read: murder mystery with lots of nudity) and "neo-noir" (1940s-style crime/detective dramas transplanted into modern settings.) When it went into production, the "big deal" was that screenwriter Joe Esterhaz had been paid a then-astonishing $3 Million for his work, helping touch off the L.A. screenwriting "spec boom." When it was being marketed, the "big deal" was that seemingly every major starlet had turned down the aggressively-sexual lead role, instead seeing it go to Sharon Stone, at the time a B-lister. When it actually came out, the "big deal" was that gay-rights activists were protesting the film due to the "plot twist" that had Stone's character as a bisexual (this make shock those of you under the age of 16, but circa-1992 "girl-on-girl action" WASN'T something you were garaunteed to see in every sexually-explicit movie; and this is the flick that helped fix that grave injustice.) Oh! Um... it was ALSO kind of a "big deal" that you could see Sharon Stone's bare pussy when she uncrossed her legs in the film's most famous scene.

Finally, when the film had come and gone as a boxoffice-igniting smash-hit, the "big deal" was that Stone aggressively turned on it, declaring that the starmaking role had "typecast" her as a seductress. Eventually, she went so far as to claim that director Paul Verhoeven had "tricked her" into the now-legendary crotch-flashing scene. She placed herself in the public role of the victimized actress, ignored for her talent and exploited for her body by Hollywood... unlucky for her, America treated this role the same way it treated every single role she had had other than Basic Instinct: Namely, it didn't give a damn.

Now, here we are, FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, and the "big deal" is... no longer Sharon Stone. So, now, likely hoping to inject some life into a career that has, sadly, gone pretty ice cold, she's "made up" with the "Instinct" franchise and stepped back into the role of seductress/murderess Catherine Tramell... and she's hit the talk-show circuit hard on it's behalf, touting the positives of the role she not-that-long-ago fled at the mention of. Turns out, yesterday's "exploitation" is today's "celebration of the sex-appeal of the older woman." Who knew?

Hate to break it to you, Mrs. Stone, but if "Basic Instinct 2" works as a celebration of anything, it's as a celebration of how lucky we were that "Basic Instinct 1" turned out as good as it did. This sequel jettison's everyone and everything from the original save for Stone and her nudity, and the result serves as an ultimate rebuttal against the argument that said original rose and fell by said nudity alone: She's doing the same routine, and she's just as naked, but without Paul Verhoeven's considerable directorial flourish or Esterhas' functionally-lurid imagination, and only a sampling of Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score, this sequel is even more useless, empty and uninspired as one might've guessed. The characters are blanks and the "mystery" is uninteresting; it's just an expensive stage from which a one-time sex symbol pleads for our attention.

There's really nothing to see here. The much-touted "explicit" scenes are almost-nonexistant, no doubt waiting to see light on DVD. The new London setting provides little excitement, save the fun of seeing reliable Brit talents like David Thewlis and Charlotte Rampling try very earnestly to pretend there's a worthy film in here, somewhere. Not so lucky is Brit TV mainstay David Morrissey, stuck in the thankless role of a psychiatrist who diagnoses Tramell as a "risk addict," only to find her slinking her way into his already-messy personal and professional life.

As for Sharon Stone... look, it'd be both easy and churlish to point out that a film that primarily exists as a showcase for a "still sexy past 40" female physique, but... the phrase "ridden hard and put away wet" leapt to mind a few times, which would sound flattering given the genre until one remembers that phrase refers to improperly-groomed racehorses. Stone is, no question, a lovely woman, but that's a bit of a leap from the "sex goddess" the film asks us to accept her as. What's more, her overall acting ability (never really her key selling point to begin with) hasn't improved... in fact, she seems to have forgotten even how to act sexy. Her Tramell still has a perky-pair and a potty-mouth, but the sexy-swagger has been supplanted by a kind of phony desperation that comes off as, well... skanky. And that's a big problem when the entire film hinges on Morrissey's character being driven (literally) mad with desire.

It's a foregone conclusion that you can find infinitely more explicit "erotic thrillers" than "Basic Instinct 2" lining the DVD shelves or cropping up on Cable. But it's surprising, and a little alarming, that most of them will also be better overall films as well.