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‘Fatal Instinct’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 29, 1993


Carl Reiner
Armand Assante;
Sean Young;
Sherilyn Fenn;
Kate Nelligan;
Christopher McDonald;
James Remar;
Tony Randall;
Clarence Clemmons;
Eartha Kitt;
Ronnie Schell;
Carl Reiner
sexual situations

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"Fatal Instinct" is an obvious and labored parody of psycho-sexual thrillers -- from chestnuts like "Double Indemnity" to contemporary stalker pix like "Sleeping With the Enemy." Lacking in both inspiration and ingenuity, it doesn't so much spoof the conventions of the genre as dumb down famous -- and in some cases, forgotten -- scenes from a slew of other movies.

Carl Reiner, who had more success kidding the noir genre in his 1982 parody "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," directs from David O'Malley's unwieldy screenplay, which blends the plot lines of the previously mentioned films with those of "Basic Instinct," "Cape Fear" and "Fatal Attraction." The filmmakers don't lampoon their subject, they whack it silly, like blindfolded kids beating a pinata.

Too bad, for if ever there was a form worthy of a good skewering, this is it. True, Sean Young, as one of the film's three femme fatales, is armed with an ice pick, but she's got nowhere new and interesting to stick it. Reiner and company lack the verve and imagination of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers ("The Naked Gun"). They also lack a leading man with the deadpan panache of Leslie Nielsen.

Armand Assante is a shade too assured as Ned Ravine, a cop by night and lawyer by day who gets his name from "Body Heat's" Ned Racine, and his nemesis, Max Shady (James Remar), from "Cape Fear's" Max Cady. Ravine's dialogue derives from Raymond Chandler, and his secretary (Sherilyn Fenn) comes from Raymond Burr's oeuvre. His wife (Kate Nelligan) and her lover plan to murder him for the insurance a la "Double Indemnity."

Definitely a noir relic, he's got few links to the antiheroes who lately populate the genre -- selfish, often psychotic guys frequently played by Michael Douglas. This anachronism also undermines Young's effectiveness. Why a hard-boiled dame instead of the witchy modern career women endemic to "Instinct" and "Attraction"? The same goes for Nelligan, who might have been more appropriate parodying the menaced mom from "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle."

"Fatal Instinct," like Mel Brooks's recent Robin Hood parody, is not altogether without laughs, but it is as old-fashioned as the burlesque-bred man who made it. It's broad instead of sly, as when Young tries a spraddle-legged sendup of Sharon "I'm not wearing any underpants" Stone. It's not funny because, in large part, the original scene was impossible to top. Reiner runs into the same problem with efforts to milk more out of Max Cady's trip to Cape Fear under Nick Nolte's car. Maybe it's useless to parody what parodies itself.

"Fatal Instinct" is rated PG-13 for sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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