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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Retro Review: Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Wayne Knight
Genre: Erotic Thriller
Worldwide Gross: $352.9 million

Plot: The mysterious Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a beautiful crime novelist, becomes a suspect when she is linked to the brutal death of a rock star. Investigated by homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), Catherine seduces him into an intense relationship. Meanwhile, the murder case becomes increasingly complicated when more seemingly connected deaths occur & Nick's psychologist and lover, Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) appears to be another suspect. 

'Sharon Stone's Performance Overrides Basic Instinct's Problematic and Seedy Plot & Story Elements'

With the groundwork already laid out in 1987's Fatal Attraction, ultimately it was Basic Instinct and the success of this movie that opened the floodgates for the erotic thriller sub-genre to flourish outside of Z-list movie status, for a short while, and into the commercial mainstream helm. 

Basic Instinct is an upper -tier lurid, erotic thriller, with nothing much to add and offers little to distinguish itself from the standard direct-to-DVD, Z-list, erotic thriller fodder which was released during the 1990s. There is very little attempt by Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas's screenplay to make this distinction clear; that and in making the changes that made the story come across as less cheesy. Besides the established names of Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone. If you took away Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone and added in obscure softcore porn performers who dabble in erotic thrillers, this film would be no different to what it is with those two performers in it. & also would people still rave about it as they did with Douglas and Stone in this? Most likely, no. 

Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and his partner, Gus (George Dzunda of Dangerous Minds) are investigating the murder of a rock star and Sharon Stone's Catherine is the prime suspect, of whom Nick gets romantically involved with. He believes she killed him with an ice pick - yet at the same time, he's in love with her and the two eventually end up in bed with each other and have rough sex. Is Catherine guilty or was she framed? That is the question that the director, Paul Verhoeven and writer Eszterhas fails to, or be it chooses not to address properly and thoroughly. And that, in itself, is not a very good sign for this movie.

With regards to the performances, they are so-so: Michael Douglas, though he is the main star of this film, is nothing more than a standby who is upstaged by Sharon Stone's ''assets'' and somewhat stronger character performance. She is good at playing antagonist roles, but I surely wished that more often she had the chance to play the good gal or lead protagonist in movies (and one where she doesn't get bumped off like in Action Jackson). Douglas plays the cop role with not much conviction and I have seen him do better than this in his other roles (see Falling Down, Romancing The Stone, Fatal Attraction, Disclosure). Although this marked the beginning of the decline in good screen roles for Douglas, from the dashing romeo in Romancing The Stone to male sex victim/predator.  

The other performances were stale; Jeannie Tripplehorn as Nick's ex, Beth-was terrible, but that is no thanks in part to the dialogue, which I will touch upon a bit later. The characters behaviours and mannerisms range from the bizarre to fetish-like to deplorable.  

Interestingly, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere and even Denzel Washington were all considered for the part of Nick before Michael Douglas nabbed the role, with Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, Kathleen Turner and Demi Moore in the running for Catherine - only for it to go to Sharon Stone. Michelle Pfeiffer, Kim Basinger, Geena Davis and Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love) turned down that role, as it demanded so much nudity and sexual stimulation that they weren't willing to compromise. Out of the guys, the only one I could picture playing Nick would be a toss -up between Richard Gere and Al Pacino, whereas Kathleen Turner or Demi Moore would have been the other viable option for the female role. But alas, by doing so, Kathleen and Demi would be reprising their roles from Body Heat for Turner and Disclosure for Moore. & of course, Demi Moore later starred opposite Michael Douglas in Disclosure

One of the biggest issues I have with this film is the contrived narrative that tries to make the audience suss out who the killer is, and teases us, taking us along for the ride. I was waiting for the twists and especially that one big twist that would take me to a different path and one that would ignite my interest - only for the depth of this deception to come to a disappointing finale that ends on a damp squib, rather than a crashing halt. The final act where Dr. Beth Garner: an afterthought and Nick's ex-lover, who is dressed down, is revealed to be the killer, given she has been a sideline character (and an awful one to boot) most of the time, all I can say to that is I find it hard to believe she would be the one responsible. It didn't make much sense as to why the director or writer came to that conclusion, as there were no actual hints that led me to think that Beth had killed those men. No real build-up or clues leading up to that, whatsoever. 

All of the characters are cold, dislikeable and unsympathetic - Douglas as Nick feels so liberated by the domineering Katherine played by Stone and her sexually depraved behaviour that not long after their sexual encounter, he rapes his ex-girlfriend. What the hell. 

The sex scenes, the nudity - including the infamous one with Sharon Stone not wearing underwear whilst she uncrosses her legs -, the violence, all the usual trademarks of your standard Paul Verhoeven movie, are here. As with him, he is a director who has successfully managed to attract audiences for his movies, of whom find some value in his twisted and controversial depictions of sexual and violent activities. 

The scene where they are dancing is practically laughable and hilarious. The sex scenes aren't that particularly sexy, well some of them aren't; there is an aggressive tone to them that I was grimacing throughout as I sat through them. It's rough and hard more so than slow, seductive and sensual. Aside from that, when it came to the suspense aspect, I wasn't on the edge of my seat and it didn't leave me stunned. And the dialogue ranged from okay at best to occasionally vapid. 

As I watched this movie, I became more and more frustrated that as much as I followed the plot, it descended into nothing but sheer confusion. Not to mention boredom; other than the sex scenes, everything else seemed rather random and passe. The tension, the mystery, the suspense it was so underwhelming it fell flat for me. The script is manipulative yet confusing, tawdry and messy, but as it is a softcore erotic thriller film, it does what it says on the tin.

The ending was bizarre and I was left even more confused: was she or was she not the killer? I needed to know and I didn't like that it was open-ended and that the writer and director of this movie, Verhoeven was toying with me throughout & without offering proper closure to it. Basic Instinct would have been an amiable thriller - if it hadn't tried so hard trying to be sexually gratuitous. 

Some of the sex scenes had to be cut to qualify for an R- rating, otherwise, Basic Instinct would have been an NC-17.

Alas, I am really not entirely impressed with this offering. & yet the film have its main stars Sharon Stone & Michael Douglas to thank for its success - without those two, the film would have easily tanked at the box office. 

Final Verdict:

I am not saying I dislike Basic Instinct or it is by any means terrible. But sadly, there is just no middle ground and the execution didn't leave much of an impression on me. The main saving graces are Sharon Stone and the score but I just feel with the characters especially, nothing much is done to further distinguish themselves and this movie from the many other erotic thrillers. Usually, erotic thrillers saddle between very good to mediocre. At best, this one is somewhat good but not great. & still, it was uneasy to watch. 

The lack of a really big twist that would have made the film more exciting, compelling and mind-twisting-yet entertaining was the big deciding factor for me, and I am disappointed that it didn't really happen. 

A part of me just thinks that with regards to Verhoeven, he must the type of director who must believe that the main thing that sells a movie is just lots of sex and nothing to it. Basic Instinct is an example of that. 

But being the provocative director that he is with his attempts at trying to shock audiences with violence, adult themes, sex, this is not surprising. Because he treats everything else in a movie- be it this one, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man, Showgirls with further disdain, particularly in regards to his treatment of the protagonist characters. Come to think of it, I didn't like any of the characters. They were all rotten and unredeemable to the core. 

And that is a main issue I have with his movies. 

It's a standard erotic thriller the likes I've seen many times before, only with much sleeker production values and A-list stars in the main roles. & whilst I can't deny or fault that Basic Instinct doesn't lack that mystery ''who-dun-it'' element, the movie's success pretty much falls on Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs and the erotic sex scenes, more so than the problematic and seedy plot and story elements themselves. Some of which leave a lot to be desired.

But hey, I'd still take this over the sequel, which is drivel. 

*score updated: 28 Sept 2016*


(6.9 out of 10)

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