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‘Basic Instinct’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 20, 1992


Paul Verhoeven
Michael Douglas;
Sharon Stone;
George Dzundza;
Jeanne Tripplehorn;
Stephen Tobolowsky
Under 17 restricted

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If you're unfamiliar with the genitalia of either gender, "Basic Instinct" is the movie that will clear things up. It's nothing if not steamy. And if you're an aspiring serial killer, this thriller has some excellent pointers on multiple stabbings.

Michael Douglas is a San Francisco detective living on the edge. He has the usual, jaded detective problems: He drinks, does a little cocaine and accidentally shot some tourists in the line of duty. He's in therapeutic remission now, reporting regularly to police shrink Jeanne Tripplehorn -- who is also his on-again off-again girlfriend.

When a grisly icepick murder takes place, he gets erotically and romantically involved with initial suspect Sharon Stone, a bisexual author who happens to have written a novel that duplicates the crime detail for detail. Sex and violence bind the pair together.

Unfortunately, little else in this movie binds together. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who did "Jagged Edge" and "The Music Box," resorts to his tired old elements, including illicit love on both sides of the law and a murder weapon that ends up being the macabre punchline. The result -- despite a barrage of flesh hacking, shooting, red herrings and bed-bumping -- is a predictable, surprisingly uninvolving affair.

There are those who have demonstrated against "Instinct" for its negative portrayal of lesbians and bisexuals. They're forgetting the heterosexuals. Everyone's negatively portrayed in this business-as-usual slasher. The movie's all but devoid of character. Sure, there are two-legged beings resembling cops, murderers, lesbians, bisexuals and old ladies. But they're blunt, formulaic creations, even by action-movie standards.

Director Paul Verhoeven, a man who never met a scene he couldn't overblow, gives this thrill show everything he's got. But he's stylistically inept. He just blunders ahead with rudimentary suspense tactics. He fared better with robots ("RoboCop") and Austrian bodybuilders ("Total Recall").

The second half of "Instinct" is better than the first, mainly because finding the identity of a killer is intrinsically fascinating, no matter what you're watching. It's the movie-going equivalent of rubbernecking. What isn't so fascinating is this movie's absurdity of motivation. No one does anything that makes sense. No one seems real. When the actual perpetrator is uncovered, there is no enlightenment as to why the killing occurred.

Principals Douglas and Stone give you little to really care about. They trade quips and play sexual cat and mouse, but there's nothing below the surface. It's only Douglas's big-name presence that puts any oomph into his character. It's only Stone's nudity that puts anything into hers. She's supposed to be an author, but when she finds time to type a single word -- between all these encounters with Douglas and emotionally hotheaded lover Leilani Sarelle -- is anyone's guess. Unfortunately, Eszterhas did find that kind of time.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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