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Friday, Nov. 24, 2006
Stone me! She's still got what it takes
By KAORI SHOJI
Contrary to expectations, "Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction" is about dignity, not sex. Which when you think about it, are the polar opposites of each other; the two words just don't belong in the same sentence together, much less the same movie. The first "Basic Instinct" (1992) had sex embedded in its brain, which was no surprise when you consider that Dutch naughtymeister Paul Verhooven ("Showgirls") was the director. Ah, now that was the real stuff. The crossing/uncrossing of Sharon Stone's legs stretching out from a very tight, very short skirt was a 20th-century cinematic moment on par with Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blowing up in "The Seven Year Itch." And as the impossibly gorgeous, blast-out-sexy Catherine Trammell, whose specialty lay in unleashing instincts basic or otherwise and leaving a trail of male corpses in the wake of her clicking heels, Stone reigned supreme. She was in her prime and at the height of her flawless beauty; whenever she disrobed on-screen you could hear the collective thud of audience jaws dropping to the theater floor.
So why wait 14 years to make a sequel? It's difficult and unnatural to assume that Catherine the Great could refrain from mischief for over a decade, but "Instinct 2" ("Kori no Bisho 2" in Japan) doesn't fill us in. She simply appears and is there, like some glorious existential dream -- in her late 40s now, but so hot she could melt a polar ice cap.
We last saw Stone's character in San Francisco, but now she's in London. Director Michael Caton-Jones's opening scene is splendid -- Catherine careening through the streets in a natty sports car with the hand of her latest beau (a soccer player in his early 20s) up her skirt. She guns the accelerator to er, enhance her pleasure and inadvertently drives over a bridge, crashing into the Thames. She swims to safety, but the footballer perishes, which brings her to the attention of suave London police detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) and ultracorrect psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey). Already, Catherine is waist-high in trouble, knee-deep in men and lovin' every minute of it. Way to go, girl.
The initial joyride, as it were, stops there. Fourteen years is a sizable chunk of time and Catherine, though incredibly well-preserved, is perhaps . . . excessively so. The lower half of her face has an unnatural tautness that speaks of the latest in surgery techniques. Her silhouette attests to many hours of exercise and extra-posh spa treatment. And she's so fashionable it seems like an affront to Italian designer labels ever to imagine her shedding any clothing. It should be noted too, that there's very little nudity or overt sexual depictions; the fascination with her is still there but the film, overall, is more interested in stuff like her mind and her motives. It respects her too much to defile her dignity. In comparison, the poor slugs around her are taunted and humiliated; the clueless, fuming detective and the hapless doctor being the main victims.
In court, Dr. Michael testifies that Catherine suffers from "risk addiction," meaning she's a danger to herself and to everyone who falls prey to her wiles, but she's acquitted anyway. Catherine then turns up in Michael's office, arranges herself just so on his black leather couch in a skimpy outfit, and goads him into analyzing her in more ways than one. But the doctor is not only unequipped to do so, he's got major anal retentive personality issues. In fact, he's so repressed and unbalanced it's surprising that his colleague/friend Milena Gardosh (the ever-attractive Charlotte Rampling) doesn't strap him to her couch immediately. Detective Washburn doesn't fare much better; for all that he rants "I want that c**t in jail!" he always seems on the verge of taking her coat and offering a drink; a Sherlockian butler to her Frosty Highness.
The film is good fun, not least of all for the way Catherine gives everyone a run for their money, even the older, world-weary Milena, whom you'd think is too familiar with femme fatale tactics to fall for any. Their first scene together is a lesson in seduction (though not necessarily sexual): At a house party, Milena goes out to smoke a cigarette and Catherine joins her, sidling up so that they're close but not touching, and flashing the most intimate of smiles. Milena is intrigued, and later she opts to become Catherine's therapist after Michael undergoes a textbook case of Freudian breakdown, no doubt from too much sexual repression. The film however, doesn't let the Catherine/Milena relationship develop, as it pays far more attention to the men and, in any case, puts the pair on lofty pedestals. In the end Catherine seems a bit bored, as if constant triumph can become frightfully dull. As for the audience, we may as well look forward to the third "Basic Instinct" 14 years down the line -- if anyone can pull this off at 60-something, it's going to be Sharon Stone.