This is a stylish-looking film with not nearly enough substance, and even less if you remember the plot of the first Basic Instinct.

James Plath's picture

In "Basic Instinct," Sharon Stone caused quite a stir—not so much because of her acting, but because she crossed and uncrossed her legs in that now-famous scene to reveal she was wearing zero undergarments. Fourteen years later, Stone is still known more for her skin shots than her acting, as "Basic Instinct 2" painfully illustrates. Everything is one-note with her, but the consolation is that Stone still looks pretty good in the buff (if you're into that sort of thing). The question is, is it worth slogging through 107 minutes of essentially the same plot as the original, just to get to roughly seven minutes of nude scenes?

If you've seen the first film, the similarities pretty much knock you over the head. Instead of being set in San Francisco, where a cop gets involved with a prime suspect in a series of ice-pick murders, the scene shifts to London, where a criminal psychologist (David Morrissey) gets involved with the same suspicious character, novelist Catherine Tramell (Stone). Did she or didn't she? Should he or shouldn't he? The cop and the psychologist are both drawn to her like moths to a flame (reviewers are allowed to use clichés when a film does), only this time around—perhaps because we've seen it all before—the femme fatale is more of a femme blasé. There were several times during the course of the film when I found myself thinking this is tedious, and other times when I looked at the display to see how many minutes were left. Too often, as is the case with sex-driven films like this, some of the scenes seem to exist only to fill space between the bedroom scenes—plodding one minute, and orgasmic the next.

True to the formula for a film like this, the opening scene is a real grabber. Catherine is in her sexy car using the stick shift as if it were . . . well, something other than a stick shift. In her passenger seat is a sexy soccer player who's been doing drugs with her. As she grabs his hand, her basic instinct is to use it like a dildo as she drives at a high speed until right at the point of her own orgasm she crashes the car into the water. Now, corniness and Stone's overacting aside, I have to admit that it's a pretty cool and stylish scene that obviously took a great deal of work. And if you watch the lone featurette on this disc, you'll see that Stone and actor Stan Collymore spent three-and-a-half days in a water tank trying to get it right, with divers stationed just off-camera with oxygen to make sure nothing went wrong. It's a fast-paced, excitingly filmed scene that sets the bar high for the rest of the movie. But the rest of the movie, unfortunately, has a vertical leap like Woody Harrelson in "White Men Can't Jump."

It's not the fault of the supporting cast. Morrissey does a decent job as Dr. Michael Glass, and David Thewlis reminds you of a young Donald Sutherland playing Scotland Yard's Roy Washburn, who finds himself in the middle in this who's-doing-it. Even minor characters like Glass's ex-wife, Denise (Indira Varma), and his mentor, Milena Gardosh (Charlotte Rampling), are rendered in a believable and interesting fashion. The psychological honcho, Jakob Gerst (Heathcote Williams) is as clichéd as it gets, but for the most part the smaller roles are filled by people who can convince you that they're real. Unfortunately, they can't convince you that the plot is interesting. It sags, it drags, and it bagsw.

What's laudable, though, is the film's visual style. In the commentary, Caton-Jones admits that the challenge for a sequel is "How do you do it the same, but different?" He couldn't mess with the main character or basic premise, and he couldn't radically alter the tone of the original, which he described as "a campy knowingness" and a "good old film noir melodrama." But he could alter the film's look. Caton-Jones says he used a Hungarian cameraman, which explains why "Basic Instinct 2" has a European visual sensibility, and there are parts of London that are shown in the film that cinemagoers usually don't get to see—a nice blend of old and new architectural features shot at close angles and cropped in interesting and dramatic ways.

Video: The colors, as with the other Blu-ray discs I've reviewed, are more natural compared to SD-DVDs, with no great intensity. That's fine,
but more than the other Sony Blu-ray discs I've reviewed thus far, "Basic Instinct 2" was a disappointment. Some of the scenes, like the opening, are so sharp you'd swear you could reach into your set and touch Stone or that gear shift. But others are grainy and don't seem to have nearly the same level of detail. Admittedly, more than a few of these scenes had soft-focus backgrounds, but even the figures in the foreground didn't have the leap-out-at-you clarity that you'd hope for. Then too, there are annoying occasional stoppages, the kind you experience on a dual-layered disc when the player shifts from one layer to the next. It's sharper than an SD, but not as sharp as you'd hope for a the next generation of discs.

Audio: Once again, I flipped back and forth between my optical connection and my 6-channel connection, and this time the 6-channel came out on top. Sound hasn't been a real problem with these early Blu-ray discs. It's been fairly solid and robust, with good distribution across the speakers that matches up with what we see on the screen.

Extras: The Blu-ray version has the same featurette ("Between the Sheets: A Look Inside 'Basic Instinct 2'") and the same commentary by director Michael Caton-Jones as the other releases, but it lacks 10 deleted scenes and an alternate ending that are included on the SD-DVD and Unrated editions. The commentary is quite literate, which is almost surprising considering that Caton-Jones doesn't exactly have a track record for producing great films. "This Boy's Life" came closest, and it still receive mixed reviews. But to hear him talk about this project is interesting and it almost makes you wish the film were better. "The whole film is about the establishment of power—who's on top," Caton-Jones says. It was crucial to get a male lead who wouldn't be intimidated by Sharon Stone the movie star, he says, and so he took his leading contender, Morrissey, to California to read with Stone to "see if he would choke." He didn't, obviously, and Stone felt an instant bond. Good thing, because they "bond" plenty during the film.

The commentary is quite good, but fans of Sharon Stone and "Basic Instinct" will appreciate the short extra even more. Stone and other principals appear on-camera talking about "Basic Instinct 2," and it's a solid if unspectacular bonus feature.

Bottom Line: This is a stylish-looking film with not nearly enough substance, and even less if you remember the plot of the first "Basic Instinct." Stone's stone-faced performance is augmented by a cast of warmer characters, and over the course of the film those warm bodies are more welcome than skin that Stone displays. But even that's not enough to reheat an old premise to where it can sizzle again.


Film Value