Basic Instinct - Chipping Away at Basic Instinct

Duration: 127min
Category: Thriller
Available: On DVD
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Revisiting Basic Instinct reminded me of how memories often don’t match up with the actual event. Thinking back, all I could remember was controversy, leg crossing and an unknown Sharon Stone baring all to become a star. It’s interesting now to look back and compare what I remember about this film with the actual film.

First, the film got somewhat of a bad rap after it was accused of being homophobic. I never really thought that argument had a leg to stand on and seeing it again I still feel that way. Basic Instinct is really more about men’s fear of women. The bisexuality is a gimmick that moves the plot along.

On that thread, I realise upon watching it that Basic Instinct really could have been an amazing film had someone like DePalma or even Lynch got their hands on it. Instead, we were subjected to Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven’s vision, clumsy and reckless as it is.

You see there’s a great erotic thriller lying underneath the spectacle of Basic Instinct. If it wasn’t for Verhoeven’s lust for excess, this film could have been a steely examination of misogyny and the psychopathic mind.

Katherine Tramell is a great villain and as character study Basic Instinct should sing with possibilities. Also her modus operandi is titillating. Using sex as a weapon, especially in a patriarchal society like ours could provide a complex conceit. But Verhoeven misses most of this and instead is too busy trying to push the so-called envelope of nudity and language. He is distracted by the belief that the adult nature of the film is what is revolutionary instead of the explorations of our sex related fears.

All the more disappointing is how good Sharon Stone is. She is remembered for the leg crossing -- one of the few truly outstanding and ingenious moments of the film -- but she provides so much more that is forgotten. She seems to get what no one else in the film does. She is playing a classic screen villain and she gets under Tramell’s skin (literally) to bring that character to life.

Michael Douglas was in his pre-Wonderboys phoning it in stage. Besides having a tremendous body, he doesn’t add much to the mix. Neither does the terribly hammy Jeanne Tripplehorn who we never believe could really take the fall.

Joe Eszterhas’ script is awkward and crude, never getting into the interesting premise that he starts with. He followed this up with Sliver and Showgirls so I guess we can regard this clunky prose with the high point of his career.

Basic Instinct disappoints because the promise is there but never delivered. The fact we know Sharon Stone has been wasted on too many lame projects since this time it even more depressing. I don’t have high hopes for Basic Instinct 2 which seems more like a hail mary career move than a real film which is too bad. A part of me really wants to revisit Tramell and see what she’s up to.

Review By: Collin Smith

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