There’s a print prominently displayed on the wall of the leading man’s apartment in “Basic Instinct 2” that bears the legend (as we’re informed), “I smell blood.” But viewers sitting through this appalling movie will be smelling something quite different. It’s been a full fourteen years since the first picture, directed with aplomb by Paul Verhoeven, steamed up the screen back in 1992, but as Michael Caton-Jones’s misbegotten sequel shows, that’s not nearly long enough.
Sharon Stone, still looking very fine and still showing precious little range as an actress, returns as Catherine Tramell, the sexy novelist/murder suspect who seduced San Francisco cop Michael Douglas in the initial installment (that earlier episode is alluded to several times here) but now is living in London and getting into just as much trouble in the English climate. A titillating credit sequence–running some eight minutes–shows her engaging in an explicit sex act with a nearly comatose soccer player (Stan Collymore) while they speed in a sports car at over a hundred miles an hour through the curiously deserted city streets early one morning before crashing through a photogenic glass barrier into the river. She escapes, he drowns, and homicide detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) is determined to charge her with murder. First, though, he has to arrange a psychiatric evaluation for her, and the man he chooses to administer it is Michael Glass (David Morrissey), a recently-divorced fellow who’s up for a prestigious academic chair but who, as the twisty narrative eventually reveals, has a major skeleton in his closet. Glass diagnoses Tramell as a risk addict and argues she’s a danger to herself and others, but she’s released on one of those pesky technicalities; and before long, in a plot turn that strains credulity early on, she becomes his patient.
From this point the tale grows increasingly convoluted–and absurd. Bodies pile up–four more, if my count is correct–as the psychiatrist becomes more and more obsessed with the vixen he claims to be treating and more suspicious of her motives, while she toys not only with him but everyone else in sight, always tantalizingly. Red herrings abound, with the color often coming from spurts of blood. Colorful characters pass by like folks in a parade–a smarmy magazine writer (Hugh Dancy) who has his eye on an expose regarding Glass’s past while putting hands, and much else, on the psychiatrist’s ex-wife Denise (Indira Varma); Glass’s academic supporter and friend Milena (Charlotte Rampling); an East European drug dealer; a young tech (Flora Montgomery) whom Michael briefly has sex with; and a squat-faced colleague (Heathcote Williams) whom Glass must cultivate to get that academic award (and who gets involved with Catherine, too). It would take considerable dexterity (as well as a strong ability to suppress giggles) to detail all the turns of the plot constructed by Leora Barish and Henry Bean after Joe Eszterhas, which alternates extended scenes of sexy posing and risible innuendo by Stone with in which Morrissey, looking a bit like Clive Owen might if his face filled out with baby fat, either rushes about trying to defend himself and uncover the facts or frets, with wrinkled brow, over his relationships with Catherine and Denise. Suffice it to say that it all winds up in a bait-and-switch conclusion that might be described as the thriller equivalent of a double entendre. The one thing lacking is the crass lesbian theme Eszterhas employed in the first movie; that, at least, is a sign of changed times.
In keeping with the quality of script, the acting is tepid across the board, with Rampling especially disappointing given her pedigree and Morrissey instantly forgettable. But definitely taking the cake is Thewlis, who snarls, grins and generally vamps it up to beat the band. If his last scene doesn’t make you snicker, you’re definitely made of sterner stuff than most.
Is there anything remarkable about “Basic Instinct 2”? Surely. There’s the cinematography by Gyula Pados, which is sleek in a coolly modernist way and emphasizes an odd color coordination, emphasizing blacks, whites, grays and dark blues and silvers in both costuming (Beatrix Aruna Pasztor) and production design (Norman Garwood). One must take special note of the wonderful penis-shaped building used as the site of Dr. Glass’s office–what a deep and lasting impression it makes, and to what effect, especially when the camera returns to it so frequently, creating a visual motif for the whole. And there’s the periodic soft-soft-core porn scenes, which are about of the caliber you’d find on early-morning Showtime movies. They’re not worth leaving the den for.
If you exclude the idiotic epilogue, “Basic Instinct 2” concludes with a howl of anguish from one of the characters. You just might glance around to see if it mightn’t be coming from audience. There’s simple trash and enjoyable trash; this movie wants to be the latter, but alas it falls into the first category.