Basic Instinct 2 (Germany/Spain/United Kingdom/United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Who would have imagined that the most appropriate word to describe Basic Instinct 2 would be "boring?" This plodding, pretentious follow-up to 1992's hit replaces Paul Verhoeven's lurid, over-the-top style with the leaden rhythms of Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy), a director who doesn't have a clue what a Basic Instinct movie should be about. By emerging from the niche in the exploitation genre carved out by the original, Caton-Jones has rendered the material inert. It's nearly impossible to endure the two hours that comprise Basic Instinct 2's running length not because it's dumb (although it is) and not because it's poorly acted (which it also is), but because it's lifeless. For anyone not jacked up on caffeine (minimum of two cups of strong coffee required), this is a guaranteed sleep-inducer.

The movie has had a long, troubled production history with actors and directors coming and going. The only constant between the sequel and its predecessor is Sharon Stone (as sexpot Catherine Tramell). Stone shows a fair amount of skin in Basic Instinct 2 (and, in her mid-40s, she looks incredible), but not as much as was rumored. (Getting an R rating required substantial cuts.) Her nudity and sex scenes are tame, especially compared to those of the 1992 feature. There's also not a lot of gore. Three of the five on-screen deaths are bloodless.

Why did Stone agree to appear in Basic Instinct 2? I can think of three possible reasons: (1) she's trying to resurrect a flagging career, (2) the money was too good to turn down, or (3) she wanted to strike a blow for mature actresses getting roles. My bet is on #2. She has never seemed political enough for #3, and Basic Instinct 2 looks likely to be dead-on-arrival at the box office, so its chances of giving a boost to anyone's career are unlikely. One could take the position that Basic Instinct was stupid fun. It will be hard to find anyone not on the producer's payroll to make that claim about the second installment.

These days, author Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is living it up in London. Her San Francisco days, as well as her dalliance with detective Nick Curran, are long behind her. But when she's involved in an automobile accident, and the guy in the passenger seat dies, she comes to the police's attention. Inspector Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) isn't convinced of her innocence. The Court mandates that she undergo a psychological profile. The prosecutor selects psychologist Michael Glass (David Morrissey) to ask the questions. Catherine likes him so much that she hires him as her personal therapist. And that's when people start dying, beginning with those who may possess information injurious to Michael's career. Through it all, Catherine weaves her web, deflecting blame away from herself and towards the good doctor and the overzealous police inspector.

The script, credited to Leora Barish & Henry Bean, makes Joe Eszterhas' screenplay for Basic Instinct look like a masterpiece of plotting and dialogue. Not only are there gaping logical holes, but the movie wants us to believe it's a sophisticated psychological thriller (something Basic Instinct didn't pretend to be). Another source of disappointment is the way in which the lead character has been written. In Basic Instinct, Catherine was an interesting individual - devious and dangerous, but with flashes of humanity and vulnerability. In Basic Instinct 2, she exists solely as a nymphomaniac manipulator. There are no indications she cares about anyone or anything. She has become a writer's construct - a walking, disrobing plot contrivance.

It's hard to imagine a worse case of miscasting than hiring David Morrissey to play the part of Michael Glass. He's bland, and his most frequent expression is that of a deer caught in the headlights. He's not interesting or sexy, and he makes for a poor choice of a psychological foe for Stone's Catherine. Apparently, Morrissey was the seventh or eighth choice to play the part (other names attached at one time or another included Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell, Robert Downey Jr., Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Greenwood, and Benjamin Bratt), and one gets the sense that the producers were just glad to get someone willing to do what the role called for, regardless of whether or not he could do it convincingly.

Basic Instinct 2 offers a number of pointers to the first film, as if it's afraid we'll forget that the two are related. There's a scene with an ice pick (being used on ice). Catherine continually smokes where she's not supposed to (on one occasion causing Michael to pitch a hissy fit). The ending tries weakly to re-capture the ambiguity that characterized Basic Instinct's last minute tease, but instead of frustrating viewers (who don't care enough to be frustrated), it merely makes the proceedings seem more pointless than is already the case, if that's possible.

It would be one thing to criticize Basic Instinct 2 for being sleazy - that kind of charge goes with the territory. But it's another thing to find the production not only soulless, but devoid even of the most miniscule vestiges of energy. This film is unable to involve, entertain, or titillate. Basically, it stinks.

Basic Instinct 2 (Germany/Spain/United Kingdom/United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2006-03-31
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Nudity, Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1