'Basic Instinct 2': A Hammy Plot With A Pickle on the Side

Sharon Stone brandishes her weapons in the psychological sequel.
Sharon Stone brandishes her weapons in the psychological sequel. (By Jaap Buitendijk -- Mgm Pictures/sony Pictures Releasing)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006

You were possibly under the impression that "Basic Instinct 2" was a Sharon Stone movie. Who could blame you? Stone, after all, dominated the original back in 1992, with her severely beautiful face, her power stride, her relentlessly aggressive blue eyes, her straw blond hair. It made her a star, she made it a hit.

But no. It's a David Morrissey film.

And you say, as I did, who is David Morrissey?

He appears to be a British actor of a certain age and weight, a little light in the charisma and the résumé departments, but you'd think he has a fan club the size of Oklahoma and Texas and Japan combined. It turns out that the bewildering curiosity that is "Basic Instinct 2" is far more about him than about Stone's hot-to-trot and thrill-to-kill psycho bisexual novelist Catherine Tramell. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather see a movie about a self-doubting, dreary, unattractive, balding British therapist.

As the movie has it, the ever-beautiful Tramell (not that it matters, but Stone is in hyper-hot shape even though the calendar registers the passage of 14 years) has relocated to London. In the first second after the MGM logo disappears, the camera finds her in a sports car roaring about 150 miles per hour down the staid London streets; she's ratcheting through the car's gears while her date, a British footballer who looks like Seal, ratchets through her gears. These two kinds of play don't mix, and before you can say gesundheit the car is sinking into the Thames, Catherine has gotten free, and poor jock-boy is about to get neighborly with Davy Jones.

This death -- accident or murder? -- tees off Scotland Yard in the form of Detective Washburn (David Thewlis), who is determined to get her. He requests a psychotherapist to interview and diagnose her to keep her in the slammer, which is what brings the forlorn Morrissey into the picture as Dr. Michael Glass. He talks with her while she practices coy looks on him; in the end, he declares her risk-addictive and God-confused (she thinks she's Her). Lock her up and throw away the key! is his suggestion.

What he doesn't count on is the degree to which his diagnosis titillates her. When she's sprung on bail, she makes him her business, and business is good. The gist of the movie is watching her insinuate herself into his life, first as patient, then as friend of friends, then as lover, finally as antagonist. Meanwhile, people around him are suddenly dying -- a journalist investigating him, his ex-wife -- in grotesque ways, and, ambiguously, he benefits from each death.

Where's the suspense part, you ask. You know, you could do this job, too. It's not rocket science.

There is no suspense part. Suspense demands clarity of motive and action, and this screenplay, by Leora Barish and Henry Bean, never provides it. It's left to the director, Michael Caton-Jones (best film: "Rob Roy"; worst: "Memphis Belle"), to heat up the atmospherics with dark photography that punches up the lurid evil of London's most sordid streets. Or, tiring of that game, he'll study London's most soulless modern architecture to emphasize the soulless empty existential miasma that is modern . . . zzzz-zzzz. Oh, sorry folks, drifted off there.

One of Caton-Jones's most fiendish inventions does, however, earn him points for providing wit in a script that otherwise has none. He focuses on a recent addition to the London skyline, which citizens merrily call "The Gherkin" because it looks somewhat like a 70-story, 600-million-ton glass-and-aluminum pickle. Now think about the shape of a pickle. What else does it resemble? . . . Hmm, gee, I don't really know, I can't figure it out. At any rate, that shape, connoting the power of the erotic in the imagination, looms over the story in clever ways that the script and the actors can't really capitalize on.

As for the actors, as I've said, poor Morrissey is so overmatched by Stone that he hardly registers with anyone except the screenwriters, who insist on keeping the attention on him. We get to see him get angry, we get to see him smash things up, we get to see him break down, we get to see him parade around nude, we get to see him go a little nuts and almost kill someone. All the primary colors are put on the actor's palette and he disposes of them unmemorably. I understand that he's a stand-in for the underwhelming Michael Douglas in the original and is meant in some way to convey neurotic helplessness as opposed to macho capability. But Douglas, love him or hate him, was a real movie star; he had the presence and the strength and the history to at least make you care about his character even as it was batted this way and that by Stone's Tramell. Morrissey just seems like a sad sack.

Then there's the idiocy of casting as Dr. Glass's closest friend and mentor no less than Charlotte Rampling! Good lord, Charlotte Rampling, the Betty Bacall-looking star of the blasphemous "The Night Porter," playing nice! Anyone who's been topless in suspenders and a Nazi officer's cap can't be nice! How nuts is that? With her sloe eyes and her sultry waves of hair and knowing looks, she's been a dependable movie bad girl for ages. And she's in the Spring Byington role?

Finally, Stone herself. Is she acting or is she simply putting on these ignorant Brits who clearly don't get her? It's hard to say, but the role as written is pure kitsch and so she amps it up toward the sky and comes off as the most comically exaggerated seductress since Kathleen Turner's lush toon-babe Jessica in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." It's not so much a performance as a vampy model's runway strut-and-pirouette for some fly-by-night lingerie designer Vogue never covers. It's mostly dramatic poses that emphasize the angularity of her body and display a wardrobe that seems to have, er, many strategic gaps in it. That is, when she's wearing clothes, which as it turns out, isn't often. But mostly she's finding oblique angles to the camera, looking at it through the corner or the tops of her eyes, coy, coquettish. She's always turning her face with its gorgeous planes to the light so that the geometric precision of the design is there for all to see.

Really, anyone who's looking at David Morrissey during all this definitely needs therapy!

Basic Instinct 2 (110 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for extreme violence, sexual innuendo and (complete) nudity.

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