If Basic Instinct warrants a derivative sequel worthy of direct-to-video status, Judge Brett Cullum demands one for Wild Things. Oh, wait...
Roy Washburn: What were you doing at 100 miles per hour?
Original Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone was forty-eight when she filmed Basic Instinct 2, but luckily her breasts were sixteen years old and the hair extensions and make-up were brand spanking new. Yes, this is a ridiculous proposition to attempt a sequel of an erotic thriller made a decade and a half ago. It's a bad movie, but that doesn't keep it from being an entertaining one. Get ready for the campiest noir melodrama you've ever seen, and buckle up for the most unintentionally hilarious triumph of style over substance committed to celluloid. An over-the-hill chain smoking drug addled murderess wants you to come out and play one more time. Sometimes sequels can be murder.
Facts of the Case
Somehow Catherine Tramell is still out in the world killing people, and she's gotten rid of Michael Douglas's San Francisco detective (hopefully with an ice pick five seconds after the first film ended) and moved out of the country. Now she resides in London, and after driving a ridiculously expensive sportscar into the Thames River, she's back as the main suspect in a murder investigation. Her boyfriend was drugged out enough to not make it out of the car alive, despite the fact he was awake enough to give her some digital manipulation at high speed. Catherine is accused of spiking him with a drug that paralyzed him, and is now ready to stand trial in the English court. Enter the Crown's appointed psychologist Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrisey, Derailed) to determine if the woman is a threat to society and herself. Of course she is! Yet a legal loophole allows Tramell to escape, and plot her next murderous kinky game.
Catherine decides to go after the good doctor, because she finds his take on her fascinating. He's labeled her an addict of risk, and that inspires the murderous femme fatale to screw with the shrink's head like a virtuoso. After some therapy sessions that feel more like kinky sex talk off a 900 number line than anything medically condoned, the psychologist falls in to a trap so obvious that a blind Oedipus would have seen it coming. Yet somehow he wonders if Catherine is really doing all of this, or if perhaps someone else has it out for her. Oh please! She couldn't be more obvious if she raised up her skirt and let her vagina scream "I'm going to eat you!" In the end, stupid people get what they deserve, and Catherine Tramell makes mincemeat of everyone that comes too close to her pussy. Yep, it's a sequel to Basic Instinct all right.
The plot is problematic, and attempts to be a twist-filled roller coaster similar to the original. Everything that happens is open to interpretation, and the there are never any resolves that make any sense. The script was penned by a husband and wife team that sought to play up on what Joe Eszterhas did with the original, and ends up being merely a copy of an inventive script that has been copied too many times over to begin with. The script was actually considered to be made in to a movie that had nothing to do with the Basic Instinct franchise, but had that happened, people would have readily recognized the borrowed elements. People are going to once again ask "Did she really do it?," but it is a pointless exercise. Of course Catherine did it; otherwise, this entire series would make no sense. The challenge to the actors is to pretend there is doubt, especially when Stone is so obviously manipulating everyone. By making the protagonist a psychologist, the turns are even sillier, because any doctor in his right mind would run from Catherine Tramell before she slithered into his office. Her manipulations are subtle as a jackhammer, and even a layman would recognize the machinations of this black widow creature.
What the hell is Sharon Stone thinking? She actually sued the producers to get this travesty of a film made. The woman has balls the size of regulation basketballs, and a steely maniacal conviction that she's super-sexy a couple of years south of fifty. When she did the original Basic Instinct she was the hottest thing on the planet, but now she looks like she's been at the bottom of an orgy for the past fifteen years chain smoking and shooting up. Her voice is a deep rasp, her make-up is applied with a trowel, and they've attached straw to her scalp to give her a long blonde mane she tortures in every way imaginable. She also shows up in the strangest outfits. In one garden scene she looks uncannily like an aged Orlando Bloom from Lord of the Rings with the only thing missing a quiver and some bows. This is science fiction people! Why would anyone find this woman sexy, let alone irresistible? She's like a hideous drag queen playing Sharon Stone, except she's nowhere near that subtle. Stone chews the scenery like some drunken vision of Joan Crawford in her flailing years. Her sex symbol sell-by date passed years ago, and she's a curdled monster looking for babies and live mice to feed on to regain her youth.
Then we have a surprising supporting cast made of real actors. The love interest, David Morrisey, is only six years younger than his leading lady, but he looks absolutely baby-faced in Stone's botoxed wake as if he were Ashton Kutcher mooning for Demi Moore. He was hand picked by Sharon, who notoriously rejected bigger names such as Benjamin Bratt (Catwoman) for not being a good enough an actor to take her on. Other candidates for the lead male included Kurt Russell, who blanched because of the nudity; Pierce Brosnan, who fled because of the material's themes; Harrison Ford, who bailed when the locale switched from New York to England; and Robert Downey, Jr., who was arrested yet again for drugs. David Morrisey looks utterly confused, as if he can't believe he actually ended up in this dreck, although he does cut a sexy profile in the risqué naked scenes. For a proper English gent, he's hiding a hot figure under his starched shirts. Morrisey decides to play everything stone faced and let his body speak for itself. And how did the producers wrangle David Thewlis (The Omen (2006)) and Charlotte Rampling (Angel Heart)? Did these two lose a bet in a poker game with English actors hoping to not be cast? On-set rumors have it Rampling was laughing her head off, and simply having a grand time wading through the melodrama. Thewlis decides he won't be beaten down, and hands in the movie's most real and powerful performance. He seems to get it, and plays his cop out to get "that cunt" with a ludicrous level of commitment. Film critic Roger Ebert hilariously described him in his written review as a man who "sniffs around the case like a dog convinced that if liverwurst is not in the room at this moment, it was here not very long ago." Thewlis and Rampling are both far better than the film has a right to demand.
Sony has produced the logical "unrated and extended" cut of the film for DVD. When Basic Instinct 2 made a cameo appearance in US theatres, it was trimmed to meet the standards for an R rating from the MPAA. Don't get too excited, because the excised footage adds up to a couple more thrusts in the sex scenes and I couldn't detect much in the way of more revealing shots, just longer looks. The transfer is gorgeous, and the surround sound is well done. No problems in the technical department. The extras include the obligatory electronic press kit behind the scenes and the director's commentary. Michael Canton-Jones gives us a lot of what we expect in his track, including his reasoning for making the film. There are 10 deleted scenes, which are extensions of dialogue or establishing shots that were wisely removed. The promised alternate ending adds up to a couple of sentences from David Morrisey's character, which doesn't change a thing. It's a basic release that is well done enough for fans of the film or actors.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite all the movie's problems, I had an absolute blast with this one. It's a salacious thrill ride that works a strange magic in spite of all the tawdry, predictable traps. It was titillating goofy fun. I don't know what anyone expected from the production, but Basic Instinct 2 delivers exactly what I wanted. The first one was hardly deep in any sense of the word, and it could easily be labeled as strongly inventive yet fatally melodramatic. There was no way to do a serious sequel, because the first film hardly needed a second chapter. By all logical rights Catherine Tramell would be dead if she existed in the real world. She chain smokes, does drugs, drives 120 mph even in the suburbs, has unsafe sex with anyone, and her main hobby is killing people.
Sharon Stone may be over the hill, but nobody else on the planet could fill her stilettos. Demi Moore and Ashley Judd were considered for the project at one point, but there's no way you could do this movie without Sharon. Age be damned, she still has the chops to pull off the vicious vixen even if it's not entirely physically believable. Her body defies her face's age, and you have to give her props for having the audacity to pull this one off. There are moments where she gleefully captures the magic she so easily embodied in the first film. It takes a bit of effort now, but Stone still could be a major sex symbol. The problem isn't her appeal, it's the fact they try to make her sexy in the same way she was fourteen years ago. She is betrayed by the script to keep Catherine the same when she should have advanced to a more artful and less obvious game of seduction and manipulation. Sharon Stone deserves better than this, and so does Tramell. I wish they had gone for something original rather than a rehash.
The production itself is handsome. The cars, the real estate, and most of the clothes are absolutely to die for. London looks dark, hip, and sexy in a way few films have ever dared to capture the city. The score and cinematography are lush and well executed, and the visual language of the sequel wisely advances the same tone set from the first. It's a well crafted movie, and what a pity it's nowhere near as smart as it looks. If you're a fan of stylish visuals, there's an orgy on the screen you won't mind participating in.
So why did this movie belly flop at the box office? In addition to the bad elements, the film's timing was atrocious. When Basic Instinct hit screens in the early '90s, we had been through a period where movies had become neutered and unsexy. Sex at the time was literally deadly, and Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas took that idea and ran it to its logical extreme. In the age of "safe sex," Catherine Tramell was the anti-hero we'd all been looking for. A vicious dame who never played by the rules, and proudly displayed her appetites and manipulated others in to admitting the dangers of the world were sexiest when ignored. She was a woman with the sex drive of a man, and the fantasy was prophetic as the decade unraveled with sex scandals reaching all the way up to the Oval Office. Basic Instinct 2 has the misfortune of arriving at a more Puritanical time, and even if it offered something new, it would be doomed. The country is not ready to be sexually liberated, and Tramell's freedom is now seen for what it is—a psychotic death wish. There is no need for her at this time to shake up middle America, because they are happy being buttoned up and closed in. The revolution has passed, and even if the film were better made, it has nothing to say to popular culture.
I mourn what Basic Instinct 2 could have been. There was a long period where David Cronenberg was attached to the film. He could have made the story vital and more appropriate for this era. His brand of sexuality would have allowed the project to make sense, and his realism could have sucked the melodrama to a more believable place. But alas, he passed on the project ultimately. Ultimately, director Michael Canton-Jones settles for creating an homage to the first film without injecting any originality into the proceedings other than an English setting and some handsome visuals. He allows the film to descend in to camp, and thus does little more than offer a dumb copy of the original.
Guilty of being the worst film so far of 2006. Yet as bad as Basic Instinct 2 comes off, it's still a hell of a lot of fun. I guarantee you will not be bored if you choose to enter its world of sexy sadism. The best thing to do is grab a couple of friends, pop the DVD in, and hoot and holler as the filmmakers take you for a spin on a thrill ride that you've been on before. Like its predecessor, Basic Instinct 2 is the ultimate guilty pleasure. Unlike the first, you've seen it all before.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Michael Canton-Jones
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