Basic Instinct 2
Last we saw of Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), she was shacking up in San Francisco with Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), albeit with an ice pick tucked under the bed in case life threatened to get stagnant. From the opening moments of Basic Instinct 2, it’s obvious that Tramell is just as avidly into fast cars and furious sex as ever - the first scene is a scorcher redolent with burning rubber, drugs, and feverish petting, as Tramell tears around the streets of London at 110 mph, a soccer player in the passenger seat and his groping hand firmly ensconced between her legs. The tires aren’t the only thing squealing; Tramell gives her fella a hand of her own as she rides waves of orgasmic ecstasy and plunges the vehicle into the Thames in a less than savory, quite overstated visual pun. She swims to safety; he goes down with the sports car.
Scotland Yard takes an interest, of course, and Inspector Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) is neither fooled nor rattled by her cold, blatant attitude. "Everything that comes out of her mouth is a fucking lie - even when it’s the truth," Washburn rails at one point, and we just know he’s dead. But not quite yet; Tramell is an artiste, after all, and as such has a certain responsibility to torment and enrage him before getting rid of him. Washburn enlists a psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey), to evaluate Tramell, and though the doctor initially sees Tramell for what she is - a compulsive risk taker who puts herself and others at risk just for the rush of danger - it isn’t long before Tramell is working her old black magic, taking the seamiest elements of the lives she’s about to shatter and collaging them into a plot rife with sex, murder, and mind-fucks. As in the first Basic Instinct, Tramell’s real-life "novel" spawns a fictive literary version that plumbs the psyches of her victims and, eerily, sometimes predicts events. Is Tramell merely a brilliant psychotic, or is she somehow the omniscient manipulator she sees herself as being? And how is it that her human playthings allow themselves to be so deftly manipulated? We have Charlotte Rampling at her most prim, as a colleague of Dr. Glass; we have a sleazy tabloid journalist, played by Hugh Dancy, who is working on several stories that will prove damaging to Glass and to Washburn, and who happens to be diddling both Tramell and Glass’ ex (Indira Varma). They all seem to move across Tramell’s chess board with perfect fidelity to Tramell’s schemes. How -does- she do it?
Whatever the exact nature of Tramell’s gifts, very little in the film happens except according to her plans. But what familiar plans they are! In the first installment, the novelist played a cop against a shrink to lethal effect, psychologically leveling most of a precinct with her shameless sexuality in a famous scene of leg-crossing, cigarette-smoking insolence. In this follow-up, she plays a shrink against a cop, throws herself into an orgy that jounces along to German techno music, and locks horns with Glass over her need to light up in his office. He’s an alpha dog, so she doesn’t get away with her previous one-liner of, "What are you going to do? Charge me with smoking?" No, he makes her work a little harder for her puff of tobacco, and in return she worms her way into his professional confidence, then slithers into his bed, and finally winds him around her finger so tight you hear his backbone snapping. Tramell tells Glass that what she likes about him is that he likes to be in control, the same way she likes it; in fact, what they both like, the movie informs us with a semaphoric lack of subtlety, is the smell of blood.
But then, so did Michael Douglas’ Detective Curran. In one scene, Tramell, lying on Glass’ couch, tells her new shrink about how she and Curran spent their time after the end of the previous movie: they’d check out fresh murder scenes and then retire to Curran’s car for a quick shag. It’s not quite clear what has become of Curran, or why Tramell is now living in London, but her interest in Glass is plain to see: like Curran, Glass is not only a keen sexual conquest, he also has a nasty episode in his professional past, and Tramell zeroes in on it with malicious creative zeal. To the movie’s credit, her preferred killing implement is no longer an ice-pick - she’s moved on to strangling people with belts - but when she bares her soul to Glass, it’s to use it as a weapon with the same sureness with which she uses her body to inflict ruin and suffering.
The original movie, written by Joe Eszterhas, was unruffled by huge plot holes because the direction, by Paul Verhoeven, was such an effective homage to Hitchcock. Rarely does a mediocre script make for such sensational viewing. The new movie is written by Leora Barish and Henry Bean, and it’s hard to tell whether their script is clever or merely slick; for one thing, Basic Instinct 2 rarely stops preening and riffing on its own source material. As directed by Michael Caton-Jones, the sequel feels decidedly more run of the mill - though it does have production designer Norman Garwood to thank for its cool palette of black and blue, and, on occasion, gleamingly sterile expanses of white.
Stone herself was reportedly a driving force in getting this movie made, and has allegedly made the hopeful comment that if this movie does well, she’d like to see more sequels produced. That, perhaps, is not the best idea. Basic Instinct 2 feels warmed over and unnecessary, and it carries an edge of solipsism. If there ever were to be a Basic Instinct 3, and if it followed the arc established by the first two, it could only unfold in one of Tramell’s novels - or in a sensory deprivation tank. Either way, the task of ironing the sizzle out of the instincts in question - already well underway in this second installment - would most likely prove short and unrewarding.