1½ stars (out of four)
It's mainly a chore, but "Basic Instinct 2" features the funniest opening-credits sequence since "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Fourteen years after her affair with the surly patsy played by Michael Douglas in the first "Basic Instinct," here's crime novelist and uber-vixen Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone, zooming around London at night in her little sports car alongside her latest ill-fated lover. With her foot on the gas pedal, the speedometer approaching 110 m.p.h. and her focus strictly on her own desires, the car careens out of control, plunges through a railing, flies through the air and sinks down, down, down into the Thames. I mean! Isn't there enough trash in that river already?
There's not an audience on the planet that wouldn't get a good, life-affirming chortle out of this mondo-trasho intro. Sadly, even though Ms. Stone's character is diagnosed in the sequel as a "risk junkie," "Basic Instinct 2" soon settles into risk-averse mode. Once the credits are done rolling it's a dour, enervated mystery, selling the old cat-and-mouse games.
Everything about it takes its cue from the narcoticized delivery of Stone, who thanks to the first "Basic Instinct" became a star, for a while, by uncrossing her legs and allowing us to see all the way to Kenosha. In the first one Stone also did some acting, or at least managed an archly stylized inhabitation of an ice-queen caricature from the planet Joe Ezsterhas. Named after the man who wrote "Basic Instinct," it's a place where all the women are strong, all the ice picks are good-looking and all the bondage sex games are above average.
Despite its hundreds of millions in profits, you couldn't call the first "Basic Instinct" fun. Yet all its talk of cocaine and pansexual rutting led to a certain manic joie de vivre. Who cared if the plotting was klutzy and arbitrary, so half-baked it was more like quarter-baked? The lighting was nice, and Jerry Goldsmith's music (you hear his main theme reprised in the sequel) made everything seem classy. Stone, putting on her best Kim Novak I'm-available glare, emitted a sort of fluorescent hum that, to many, looked like a star being born, or at least like someone able to stare down a co-star or a camera like she meant it.
In "Basic Instinct 2" the manufactured thrill is gone. Having left San Francisco for England, the rapacious Tramell becomes a murder suspect, again. Early on, Tramell's examined by a police-affiliated psychologist (David Morrissey, very, very, very serious). He determines her to be a thrill addict, living in a delusional world of "godlike omnipotence." With a pickup line like that, how long can Stone possibly keep her clothes on?
Bodies pile up, the shrink and the patient do the oingo-boingo and director Michael Caton-Jones shows a strange reluctance to treat this twaddle with the zest it demands. Stone, whose heartlessness doesn't seem to be in this sequel, delivers each and every come-on in a voice that could've been dubbed by Adrienne Barbeau, or Dick Cavett. As for the most inadvertently compelling part of Stone's anatomy: What's up with the forehead? It's like an ice pond now. It looks like every other forehead in Hollywood. Who Zamboni'd this woman's forehead?
And as long as we're on the subject of faces, doesn't David Thewlis have an interesting one? He's a first-rate character actor doing what he can in the role of a Scotland Yard shifty. The interesting thing is that, no matter what the camera angle, his priceless, pinched mug appears to be projected in the wrong aspect ratio.
Thewlis stands out in a pretty dreary cast, along with Charlotte Rampling, who tones things up a bit as a psychologist flitting dangerously near the flame that is our heroine. Not much--not enough--happens between these two. In the end, as much as it trades on "Basic Instinct," "Basic Instinct 2" recalls "Body of Evidence" and "Hannibal." Like Madonna in the former, Stone is trying so hard to be sexy, all you're aware of is the calculation. And like Anthony Hopkins in the "Silence of the Lambs" sequel, Stone struggles to amuse herself, and us, in a project that had no reason for being except being.
'Basic Instinct 2'
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones; screenplay by Leora Barish and Henry Bean, based on characters created by Joe Eszterhas; cinematography by Gyula Pados; production design by Norman Garwood; music by John Murphy; edited by John Scott and Istvan Kiraly; produced by Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna and Joel Michaels. An MGM and Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:53. MPAA rating: R (for strong sexuality, nudity, violence, language and some drug content).
Catherine Tramell - Sharon Stone
Dr. Michael Glass - David Morrissey
Roy Washburn - David Thewlis
Milena Gardosh - Charlotte Rampling
Adam Tower - Hugh DancyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun