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‘Basic Instinct’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 20, 1992


Paul Verhoeven
Michael Douglas;
Sharon Stone;
George Dzundza;
Jeanne Tripplehorn;
Stephen Tobolowsky
sex, violence and profanity

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Far from an attack on lesbians, "Basic Instinct" is a panting peep at the misperceptions and cliches surrounding female sexuality. For that matter, its lesbian love scenes -- a few gropes and kisses -- do less to develop the leading lady's character than they do to titillate the leading man's. When pretty push comes to sweaty shove, this sleekly made skin-flick is an extended Hustler magazine fantasy whose heroine isn't a little butch, she's metaphorically male. The she-thing at the heart of this pulp romp isn't a woman but a drag queen (nothing against drag queens).

A darkly phobic lust story, "Basic Instinct" pits a tanned and creased Michael Douglas against a suspected man-killer played with Amazonian disdain by an unforgettable Sharon Stone. The coolest blonde since Kim Novak, Stone marries the beef-mangling broad she played in "Total Recall" with a haughty jade out of Hitchcock's worst nightmare. Though officially a bisexual, Catherine is more of a sexual omnivore. She would make a houseplant if she thought it would do anything for her. When she's not partying hard in one of San Francisco's kickier clubs, Catherine pens lurid murder mysteries that have an unhealthy way of coming true for the protagonists -- like the rock star whom detective Nick Curran (Douglas) finds stabbed to death and tied to the bedpost.

Douglas, who grunts and snorts fetchingly, becomes obsessed not only with Catherine's beauty but her cunning. In a scene no one will forget any time soon, Catherine -- who disdains underwear -- flashes a roomful of panting, heaving detectives when she is brought in for questioning. "I like men who give me pleasure," she coos. Confronted with this brazen power play, the cops can't wait to get rid of her. But not the hot-tempered, trigger-happy Nick. An addictive personality, he finds himself yearning to be tied up and tied down (literally, with a white silk Hermes scarf).

If she is the killer, then he will die of multiple orgasms -- with maybe a little help from an ice pick. Nick isn't in California anymore. He's inched beyond the "Sea of Love," into the "Realm of the Senses," where the sentence for sexual addiction is about "9 1/2 Weeks" with time off for getting in touch with one's feelings.

But can Nick or any of us really trust those feelings?

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas doesn't think so. He's made a career out of certifying the notion that love is blind. His fourth film on the subject, "Basic Instinct" is obviously a reiteration of the stories and subtexts of his earlier films, "Jagged Edge," "Betrayed" and "Music Box." Writing to a population battered with headlines about pedophiles, cannibals, one-man sperm banks, sleep-around pols, Eszterhas exploits all of our fashionable fears.

Not missing a beat, "Basic Instinct" includes a variation on unethical head shrinkers that sees Nick ripping the Freudian slip right off Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn). A police psychologist assigned to counsel the temperamental detective, Dr. Garner is also a more typical Eszterhas heroine, the type whose professionalism seldom gets the best of her libido. And she comes off well compared with Catherine's insanely jealous fratricidal lover (Leilani Sarelle) and husband-whacking buddy (Dorothy Malone). What we have here is a movie with not just one, but a family pack of psychos.

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven of the flashy thrillers "RoboCop" and "Total Recall" might just as well be directing androids as actors for all the real angst he finds within them. These actors seem driven less by real emotions than Eveready bunny batteries. Perhaps Verhoeven, unlike Eszterhas, has already said all he had to say about castrating, sexually ambiguous women in his superior "The Fourth Man," a Holland-set noir thriller.

"Basic Instinct" is rated R for sex, violence and profanity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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