Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction–Sharon Stone Revisits 1992 Erotic Thriller

The behind-the-scenes story of Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction is far more interesting than anything that’s onscreen, including Sharon’s Stone nudity, sex in a rooftop Jacuzzi, and orgasms.

It took exactly (almost to the day) fourteen years after Basic Instinct, the movie that put Stone on the map and made her a sex icon, for the sequel to be made. As far as sequels go, this is a particularly bad one, but it’s pointless to ask whether it was necessary since the motivation is clear. The movie is driven by an act of desperation. At 48, Sharon Stone, who never really cashed in on her elevated status after the 1992 smash hit and the 1995 Oscar nomination for Casino, is eager (no, desperate) to reassert her pseudo-leading lady stature, having made one bad movie after another.

Stone’s last two appearances were in supporting roles. Playing a second banana, she was the over-the-top villainess in the preposterous Cat Woman, which starred Halle Berry. However, she acquitted herself more honorably as one of the four women in Billy Murray’s life in Jim Jarmusch’s serio road comedy, Broken Flowers.

Stone’s advanced age is not the main problem of Basic Instinct 2. Though her physical appearance is uneven in the film (a possible result of bad makeup and lighting), Stone still looks good for her age and can still generate some heat in her steamy scenes with David Morrissey. At Stone’s age, Hollywood’s stars of yesteryear, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Barbara Stanwyck, looked much older and were playing dominant but character roles. Davis and Crawford became horror queens (in more senses than one) and Stanwyck turned to playing tougher roles in Westerns and noir melodramas. More than a horror queen, Stone has become queen of camp, though it’s a label earned more from her off screen activities and TV appearances than from her legit work on screen.

Watching Basic Instinct 2, you wish for Stone’s campy humor to be evident, for her tough, sexy, self-deprecating talk she has demonstrated in TV talk shows. You also wish for the trashiness and guilty-voyeuristic pleasure of the first Basic Instinct. But, alas, what we get instead is a verbose and pretentious film, burdened with a dull plot and even duller Stone as a character and actress.

A boring Stone, delivering a flat performance, sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that’s exactly how she comes across in the new picture. Ill-conceived and ludicrous, the sequel goes out of its way to maintain the aura of Stone as the libidinal bisexual femme fatale Catherine Tramell.

The tumultuous production has enjoyed (and also suffered) a lot of bad press. Initially, David Cronenberg was attached to direct, then John McTiernan, but the project was shelved after at least a dozen male stars (among them, Robert Downey Jr., Benjamin Bratt, Kurt Russell, Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Greenwood, and Viggo Mortensen) came and went. At one point, Stone threatened legal action to get Basic Instinct 2 back into production, and I think the producers must be relieved that the movie, bad as it is, is finally out.

Storywise, this Basic Instinct takes place seven years after the original. Suspect murderess Catherine Tramell has moved to London after having stabbed San Francisco homicide detective Nick Curran (well played by Michael Douglas in the first film) to death with her notorious ice pick. The seductress was never charged in Nick’s or other murders for that matter.

In the first scene, Catherine is seen driving her sports car while the drugged-up man in the passenger seat performs a sexual act on her. As a result, she crashes into London’s polluted Thames River. Catherine swims to safety, but her passenger drowns, making her responsible for yet another death.

Dr. Michael Glass (British thespian David Morrissey), a respected London criminal psychiatrist, is brought in by Scotland Yard detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) to do a psychiatric evaluation of Catherine, following the death of a sports star in her presence.

Physically drawn to Catherine and mentally intrigued, Glass, against the advice of his mentor, Dr. Milena Gardosh (Charlotte Rampling), is quickly manipulated into her Catherine’s web of lies and seduction. A battle of wits–and later bodies–ensues, while several people die in mysterious circumstances. Can Dr. Glass avoid suspicion Is Washburn an honest detective; does Catherine write good or true fiction These are some of the questions that the movies poses but doesn’t answer.

Despite repeated warnings, Dr. Glass proves to be even more stubborn–and hornier–than Catherine. Problem is, unlike Michael Douglas’ Curran, Catherine’s target here, Dr. Glass, is really not a worthy adversary or adequate partner–on any level.

To say that the psychiatrist is not very bright and does huge disservice to his profession is an understatement. There’s no reason to worry, however. Since the movie is likely to be dismissed and die after one weekend or so, there won’t be a chance for psychiatrist to get upset or protest the silly portrayal of one of their kind.

It’s easy to see why Russell, Mortensen and countless other high-profile actors turned down the role. As noted, the parade of male stars that at one time or another were attached to the project and then quickly exited is more intriguing than the film itself.

In the 1992 picture, director Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas consciously emphasized the lurid, voyeuristic, and slick elements of their potboiler. In contrast, in the sequel, British director Michael Caton-Jones, along with screenwriters Leora Barish and Henry Bean (better known for the Sundance prize-winning drama The Believer with Ryan Gosling) try in vain to craft an artful thriller, dumping in the process what was enjoyable in the original. (Even critics who dismissed Basic Instinct admitted, perhaps reluctantly, that they had experienced moments of guilty pleasure than only a voyeuristic medium such as cinema can accord).
Whereas Verhoeven was excited by and is an expert of trashy camp (remember Show Girls), Caton-Jones tries to accord the basically ludicrous material some literary prestige and pseudo-psychological depth. The end result is an excessively talky policier laced with sex and nudity, used like hot chocolate syrup on stale vanilla ice cream. Stone claims to have had a say over every aspect of the production and she might have been responsible for trying to make an artsy and more serious movie out of what’s basically trash (junk is a better word). Basic Instinct 2 is as listless and deliberately paced as its predecessor was energetic, fast-paced, and aggressively enjoyable.

It just happened that last week I was in Paris, where French colleagues claimed that the European version of Basic Instinct 2 is racier and sexier than the American one. The sex and nudity in the American theatrical version might have been reduced to qualify for R rating and they might be reinserted when the DVD comes out. Nonetheless, I doubt that more sex would have made the movie better”-or more tolerable to watch; the movie’s duration is close to two hours.

Times and context have changed over the past 14 years. In 1992, the post-feminist era and the greedy socio-economic ambience served as proper settings for a bright alluring woman, who enjoyed controlling men with her unbridled sexuality. In contrast, the 2006 version, though composed of similar ingredients, registers as just a coldly calculated but unpersuasive regurgitation of subplots and characters from countless psychological thrillers of the early 1990s, some of which starring Stone, such as Sliver and Intersection.

The preposterous script desperately tries to elevate itself by inserting tricks of the trade: confusions and misunderstandings, false leads, sexual tension, sexual and professional line- crossing. There are the expected red herrings, the possibility of more than one serial killer, and the liberating and constraining power of sex, but these elements neither jell into a coherent whole nor set the screen on fire.

The acting, which was more than decent in the first Basic Instinct, is for the most part rather bad. Hard as she tries to make Catherine believable as a writer and irresistible as a woman, Stone is over the top almost from the very beginning. The subtlety and nuance she showed in the 1992 movie are now all gone. As a result, her Catherine is a grotesque caricature. I sensed trouble in an interview conducted with Stone (see elsewhere on my site), in which the she used profusely adjectives like evocative and provocative, often interchangeably.

To be fair, Stone looks as good as money can buy, still flaunting an elegant figure, though her facial makeup is so inconsistent that at times she looks like a wax-museum version of herself–as if she were wearing a mask. But even if she looked consistently great, it wouldn’t have been enough As scripted, acted, and directed, her Catherine is so brittle and shrill that she isn’t a real person but a hologram of the character.

Of the ensemble, Thewlis acquits himself most decently, delivering a mildly entertaining, if not entirely convincing performance as a dry detective with a bruised soul, a function of being around for too long. Almost totally wasted, the great Charlotte Rampling is likeable as the shrink, though Hungarians may complain about her accent.
Morrissey is burdened with the unenviable task of playing a non-character; even Richard Gere was more credible as the psychiatrist who falls for two sisters (Kim Basinger and Uma Thurman) in Phil Joanou’s noirish romantic meller, Final Analysis, which was also set in San Francisco and made the same year as Basic Instinct–and to which Basic Instinct 2 bears some resemblance in it pseudo theme of crossing professional lines.

Out of duty or obligation to the fans of the first film, which grossed over $350 million worldwide, several scenes in the sequel pay homage to the hand groping under the bed, as when the naked Catherine says in a steamy Jacuzzi, “Who do you think I’m going to kill next, can you figure it out”

Nonetheless, while watching this lurid tale of manipulation and control, I couldn’t help but have a vision of the younger, shapelier, and more natural Sharon Stone in the 1992 movie, as a sexually predator-seductress with penchant for men, women, camaraderie (with the wonderful Dorothy Malone), nasty ice-picks under the bed, and no underwear, crossing and uncrossing her legs.