Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

BASIC INSTINCT (1992) ** 1/2

Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Cinematography, Jean De Bont. Production design, Terrence Marsh. Music, Jerry Goldsmith. Cast: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle, Bruce A. Young, Dorothy Malone. A Tri-Star release. 120 minutes. Rated R (graphic sex and violence, obscene language, adult and kinky situations, drugs, gore, other niceties)

Safe Sex takes on a new meaning. Whether you call its instinct basic or base, the movie tells you to beware. Warning: don't get tied to a bed while engaging into furiously panting sex, unless the other party has supplied you with a Certificate of Sanity. Warning: don't get obsessively involved with carnal knowledge of murder suspects. Warning: The Ice Pick Cometh. Caution: cops, do not sleuth in empty buildings without your buddy. Watch out: for alumni of the Berkeley class of 1983. Caveat to foreign car makers: your costly racing machines may be nimble but Detroit can give them a run for their money.

The plot of "Basic Instinct" has more bare flesh than bare bones. In a nutshell ("nut" as in "crazy", "shell" as in "shell game" ), it opens with a strokes-to -strikes scene: in his palatial home, a retired rock star reaches a copulatory climax while his shapely blond (but not otherwise identified) partner dispatches him with multiple thrusts of an ice pick.

Troubled San Francisco cop Michael Douglas suspects Sharon Stone, an heiress (110 million dollars) who owns spectacular houses, is bisexual and writes books about killings that later materialize in real life. Stone defies, mocks and taunts Douglas and the authorities. Douglas lusts after her but will not stop investigating. Both in computer searches or in bed he leaves no Stone unturned. He also lusts after his ex-girl, police shrink Jeanne Tripplehorn. Douglas has frantic sex with both women, but separately.

As a detection thriller the movie is a game of planting red herrings and false leads and, possibly of implants. Stone's blend of mind-games and sex-games is not beguiling but it is intriguingly kinky, with her provocations, her dialectics, her much-publicized and barely visible flash of pantylessness, her fencing with Douglas, her flaunting of live-in lover Leilani Sarelle, her disregard of traditional ways and niceties. Her psychological and physiological motivations are not especially crystalline. Tentatively, they seem to me less a result of overcharged sexuality than of boredom and perversity caused by having too much money.

"Basic Instinct" has several striking (in every way) scenes, top-notch sets and photography, a menacing score, canny face and body makeup, sexily tight clothes, nastily tight performances and direction. Its basic weakness however is the script structure. It overdoes its misanthropy (unexplained) and its trickiness ( gratuitous) when it carries the characters' cat-and-mouse games into the audience.

The public may be primarily paying for titillation, but that's no a reason for neglecting the thriller elements, those that draw the line between "Instinct" as soft porn and "Instinct" as an erotic police cliff-hanger. Yet the sleuthing and suspense parts are made incoherent as the game-playing tactics reach levels of convolution where you stop following, or caring, or both. What you're left with is subjecting yourself to manipulation for the doubtful bonus of shock effects.

As the film makes less and less sense it hides its conceptual murkiness behind glitter. Anything goes. Plot and characters keep shifting, not simply fooling expectations but actually cheating us, notably in the concluding, arbitrary twist-- a final shot that's also a cheap shot.

For the thousandth time since Alfred Hitchcock left us, his lessons of holy simplicity, relative logic and clean narrative lines that build up suspense, have been ignored.

Thanks to its production values "B.I" does keep going at an un-boring clip, but in basically unexciting ways. Its unleashed sex makes voyeurs of the viewers, yet its sizzle is soulless and its studied lack of feeling, a liability.

The police action entails much suspension of disbelief, a term that, ironically, Stone herself explains to George Dzundza, Douglas's partner and only friend. The script relies heavily on very familiar clichés and set-pieces: the buddy who almost always gets his ; car chases (inventive but wildly improbable); political interference from above (remember Dirty Harry's problems? ); unbelievable internal police conflicts and enmities. The bigger-than-life syndrome extends from performances, behavior, events and situations, down to the needless loudness of the Douglas-Dzundza exchanges. It's like volume replacing melody in music.

No real concern is created for anti-hero Douglas or anyone else. The dialogue (in case any lookers are listening) is simplistic yet ponderous. A pity, because the casting is good. Douglas's cold, calculating persona makes him unconvincing in heroic or romantic roles, but right for films like "Wall Street" or "Basic Instinct." Stone and Tripplehorn are handsome, not too young, and -- in a good match with Douglas -- like people who have been repeatedly around the block, high-mileage but beautifully maintained. Call them pre-owned. Yet while the women's faces are good to look at, the barrage of Douglas close-ups should please mostly his mother and father.

In a filmic conceit, 67-year old Dorothy Malone, the vampish star of the 1950s, makes brief and bizarre appearances. Her lovely smile might remind film-buffs of the young Dorothy in "Tarnished Angels, " which is just what she represents here.

Having started with warnings, I with another warning. The R rating is a mild compromise reached after repeated modifications and submissions, to avoid the commercially undesirable NC-17. But it is still a hard R, quite close to a NC-17.

Addendum: The notorious missing seconds were reinstated at the Cannes Film Festival. As many people had already seen the film, someone suggested that it might save time if the deleted naughty bits were to have special showings by themselves. This did not come to pass. The European release, however, was uncut.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel