Ice pick-wielding Catherine Tramell is back, but the guilty thrill is missing.
The good news first: Sharon Stone looks great at 48, glamorous in her clingy wardrobe and gorgeous out of it as she returns to the flesh-baring role that made her famous in 1992. (Or that made portions of her anatomy famous, anyhow.)
Now the bad news: "Basic Instinct 2" is as dull as a blunt ice pick, watering down the original film's knockout cocktail of kinky sex and bloody murder into a timid, tepid thriller.
Fourteen years after stabbing and seducing her way through San Francisco's high society and police force, femme fatale Catherine Tramell (Stone) has relocated to London. A boffo opening combining sex, celebrity and a fatal high-speed car crash sets a promising standard for lurid excitement.
Viewers hoping to revisit the pulpy pleasures of the original -- or failing that, a full-throttle fiasco such as "Showgirls" -- will be keenly disappointed, however. Lacking the exuberant tastelessness that director Paul Verhoeven brought to the 1992 film, Michael Caton-Jones treats the story like a high-toned mystery, embalming it in the kind of BBC-style gloss that appeals to people who don't like eroticism or thrills in their erotic thrillers.
Swimming away from a crash that leaves her Porsche, a number of drug syringes and a dead soccer superstar at the bottom of the Thames, Catherine finds herself under investigation for murder. As in the earlier film, she makes no pretense of remorse and turns the investigation on its head as she plays mind games with the authorities.
Her chief adversary is Michael Glass (David Morrissey), the coolly professional psychologist assessing her mental state before the trial. His experience is no match for Catherine, whose feminine wiles would confound Hannibal Lecter himself. Catherine soon shatters Glass, insinuating that his ex-wife, her journalist lover and even the chief detective in the case are plotting against him. His rising paranoia makes him a suspect as the film's supporting players begin dying off violently, and the more he tries to resist Catherine's manipulative influence, the crazier he looks.
Neither advancing the original story nor providing a sense of closure, the screenplay never gets its stuff in a pile. Instead it rearranges themes from the first film like deck chairs on the Titanic.
Stone does what she can to energize the material, delivering a performance heavy on quips and sneers, but surprisingly light on the decadent magnetism she projected in the original. Caton-Jones photographs her well -- unless I missed something, Stone is the only blonde in the film, and certainly the most radiantly lit member of the cast. She stands out vividly against a bluish color palette which suggests that the movie was shot in a cold-storage warehouse.
There are pleasures in the film -- David Thewlis' solid performance as a semi-trustworthy police detective, the echo of Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score for the first film, the Freudian joke of the phallic office tower where the psychologist has his office -- but the guilty thrill of the original is long gone.
Basic Instinct 2
*½ out of four stars
The setup: After killing a soccer hero in a car crash, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) matches wits with the psychologist (David Morrissey) assessing her mental state to stand trial for murder.
What works: Stone still looks stunning in the flesh-baring role she created 14 years ago.
What doesn't: The film is disappointingly understated with material that should be directed with maximum gusto and minimal taste.
Great line: Morrissey: "I'm not the one on trial for murder." Stone: "Not yet."
Rating: R for strong sexuality, nudity, violence, language and some drug content.