Sink Like a Stone

All the buzz about the badness of Basic Instinct 2 forgets that the first installment wasn't exactly high art either.

Sharon Stone was so much easier to defend in her Casino days. Someone as great as Martin Scorsese had seen her acting potential and somehow managed to draw out her Academy Award-worthy performance as the sloppy, sassy Ginger. All sequins and sex appeal, she went toe to toe intensity-wise with Robert De Niro and still outvamped Joe Pesci every chance she got. For Stone, it was the performance of a lifetime. Nothing else she's done has ever come close. But some projects, it turns out, are further away from Casino than others.

Basic Instinct 2 was talked about for a long, long time before it ever became a reality. Rumors of a sequel have floated around Hollywood for years. David Cronenberg was set to direct at one point. (Imagine the glorious insanity of that.) Every big-screen actor and his brother were mentioned as a possible male lead (but luckily escaped casting): Harrison Ford, Pierce Brosnan, Kurt Russell, Benjamin Bratt. But Instinct 2 was definitely starting to seem like one of those things that just never was going to happen. It probably shouldn't have.

Basic Instinct 2 is not a totally bad film. There's a sleekness to the sets and a cool vibe to at least some of Michael Caton-Jones' direction, and David Morrissey makes for an interesting main character. And it's not like the sequel has a sterling artistic legacy to uphold. Everyone running around hooting about just how bad Basic Instinct 2 is has obviously forgotten that the first one wasn't all that impressive. Does no one remember that Basic Instinct got by on shock value and not actual value? For the first film, writer Joe Eszterhas (the poet that gave us Flashdance and Showgirls) just slapped out a trashy-novel of a movie whose sexual scandals and American Psycho-sis grabbed enough attention to make it matter. A lurid little man, Eszterhas threw in a little girl-on-girl action, that one infamous interrogation scene and an ice-pick-wielding heroine/murderess and, presto! You'd think he'd made an American classic.

He didn't. Instinct was full of bad acting and mistook overly complicated plot lines for intelligence. It was trashy and cheap, but it was at least kind of hot sometimes. Instinct 2 is still trashy and cheap; it has lots of bad acting and ridiculous twists. Its biggest problem, then, is that all the sex seems silly and for show. Writers Leora Barish and Henry Bean try to be as dirty as Eszterhas and just end up embarrassing themselves and their actors.

Naughty novelist Catherine Tramell (Stone) has hopped the pond to unleash her voracious appetite on the unsuspecting men of London. Surprise, surprise, someone dies, and Scotland Yard detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) soon finds himself tracking our most unusual suspect. Up-and-coming psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey) is brought in to consult on the case and soon finds himself pulled into Tramell's chaos. That chaos includes a lot of dirty talk, loads of suggestive looks and, of course, an orgy. Oh yes, and several more murders. Everyone's a suspect, no one is trustworthy, and things soon start to get more than a little crazy.

Stone, with a chopped-up blonde hairdo and an impossible wardrobe, looks pretty fabulous. But she overacts like a drag-queen Bette Davis impersonator and delivers no moments that seem anything more than plastic and posed. Her character is the cause for all the chaos in the film, but there's no sense in which she is the main character. And that's not just because there are so many scenes without her. Anthony Hopkins stole Silence of the Lambs with similar screen time by being mesmerizing and unforgettable; Stone gives her film away by being ridiculous and not-at-all scary.

Morrissey fares better; the English actor (Derailed, Hilary and Jackie) actually makes for a better foil than Michael Douglas ever did. His Glass is half-full, a man we don't understand but keep trying to.

At the end of the day, no one is really going to remember Basic Instinct 2 because there's nothing about it that makes an impression. It's a movie that might as well have never been made and that audiences might as well never see. It won't come up again.

Except, perhaps, when it's time to compare it to the now-rumored third film which Stone has said she'd like to direct. Wow, that's way scarier than anything Catherine Tramell threatens to do in Basic Instinct 2.