Paul Verhoeven, director of the original Basic Instinct, must be great in bed. The women in his films attest to this assumption. They don’t just make love – they soar athletically about bedrooms and swimming pools. They don’t simply orgasm - they erupt, cascade and convulse. Who can forget the otherwise forgettable Elizabeth Berkeley’s rodeo pool ride atop the bucking and bullish Kyle Maclachlan in Verhoeven’s surrealistically brilliant Showgirls? And no man could etch from his memory the opening of the original Basic Instinct – where a woman reaches such a state of thrill in conjugation that with her climax comes the crushing force of an ice pick into her partner’s chest. Quite a release! If art imitates life and artists draw from experience, Verhoeven clearly has another skill set somewhat more impressive than his directorial abilities. Verhoeven’s energy, his thrust if you will, informs Basic Instinct 2, a sequel he wisely chose to avoid.
In the tradition of hyperbolic orgasms, the opening of Basic Instinct 2 finds us in a car with Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) pleasuring herself with the hand of a drugged passenger while speeding through the streets of central London. Howling to her peak, Tramell drives the car through a roadblock and into the Thames. She survives. Her passenger does not. The accident and its involvement with popular author Tramell becomes a sensation and a mystery to the bottom of which detective Washburn (David Thewlis), a hard-worn London cop, seems unusually desperate to get. Tramell, in the course of the investigation, is sent to visit Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey) in order to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. As those viewers of the first film know, an interview with Tramell is no tame affair; an immediate attraction grows between doctor and patient that will end inevitably in blood, tears, and plenty of the good stuff that defined Verhoeven’s earlier film. Article continues below
If only it were as good as it sounds. Though it purports to pulsate with the lascivious misdeeds of its source material, and certainly, it strains at capturing a certain edgy, sexy cool, this new film directed by Michael Caton-Jones is decidedly limp. Caton-Jones is clearly not the directorial Don Juan Verhoeven almost was. He strips the film of all sensuality and fun, rinsing the color palate of every scene until it is as grey as London itself. He sits his camera still and unimaginatively before his drab sets, moving the action about as little as possible and offering only keyhole intrusions into the sex scenes many audience members will be coming to see. These moments of "passion" are handled particularly poorly. Caton-Jones seems unbothered with sensationalizing the sexual act in the way of his predecessor, instead opting for lame quickies in which Stone is obviously instructed to “snarl at camera 1.” It is disastrously uninspired direction from a man who once made his name with the glorious Rob Roy.
Perhaps he is a director uninspired by his script and by his cast. Leora Barish and Henry Bean’s screenplay forces Tramell and Dr. Glass into unlikely situations of cat-and-mouse dialogue that fizzle under their haughty aspirations. These scenes, with their intense close-ups and underlying score seem aimed at a Lecter and Clarice dynamic that they could never dream of achieving. The cleverest line is from Tramell: “You look a little divorced,” and this is hardly Shakespeare. Of course, the performers only further deflate any potential the script might have had. Morrissey is a Liam Neeson impersonator and fails even at that. He is amazingly wooden, and his character, given the very dangerous and sexy motivation of needing to earn a chair at a university, is colorless. Not for one second do we believe Tramell could ever be interested in this mediocre dumpling.
If Morrissey is mediocre, and Caton-Jones uninspired, then Sharon Stone surely has a "risk addiction." Defined by Morrissey’s Dr. Glass muddily as a compulsive need to take risks and survive them, it is a condition that seems to have defined Stone’s career since her rise to fame in the late 1980s. Diabolique, Sphere, and Catwoman all came to her with the risk of being unwatchable. Basic Instinct 2 comes with a similar risk, which she takes with a surprising lack of enthusiasm given how hard she worked to have the film made. Stone’s Tramell desperately strides through each scene pronouncing her words with amazingly sexless sizzle and staring with vague determination at every camera of which she gets a hold. She seems to see in the murderous author a franchise character, but takes the assumption at face value, not being bothered to invest actual effort into the performance. Tramell is no Hannibal Lecter, and Stone no Hopkins, but at least vamp it up for us, Sharon!
It is this that the film ultimately lacks. The only hope Basic Instinct 2 had of any type of success was to revel in its vices – its sex, its violence, and ultimately its ridiculous flamboyancy. It might have been a hilarious romp if everyone wasn’t taking themselves so seriously. The film simply isn’t bad enough to be any good. It is guilty of the cardinal cinematic sin: It is unforgivably and unstoppably boring. The most thrilling moment for me was catching a glimpse of a university I once attended substituting fittingly as the set for a psychiatric hospital… and for you, this thrill will likely go unfelt. It is a superbly banal exercise. Sharon Stone has been falling from grace for about a decade now, and here, with her great vanity project, she hits the ground with an inglorious thud. I do not know that this is a risk she will ultimately survive.