In 1992, Paul Verhoeven introduced Catherine Tramell to the world. Skillfully portrayed by Sharon Stone, the novelist and risk-taker extraordinaire uncrossed and re-crossed her legs, forever altering mainstream (American) cinematic representations of female sexuality and self-awareness. Hampered by legal and creative issues, it has taken over a decade for Stone to reprise this role. “Basic Instinct 2” (Michael Caton-Jones) relocates its setting from San Francisco to London and centers on a psychiatrist.
Based on characters created by Joe Eszterhas, and penned by Leora Barish and Henry Bean, the sequel begins with Ms. Stone driving a fancy sports car with an English futbol star sitting shotgun. Whizzing through conspicuously empty London streets, Tramell and her passenger engage in some foreplay action, whereupon the car goes off the road and plunges into what is probably the Thames. To determine if the American novelist deliberately left the futbol player to die, and if she would be a danger to anyone, Detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) assigns Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey) to evaluate Tramell. The body count inevitably increases, and Dr. Glass must figure out if the writer is somehow responsible for the murders and do his best to resist her charms.
Sometimes the protagonist, other times the antagonist, the novelist penetrates the psychiatrist’s professional and personal circles, which means that the film must introduce secondary characters and address their connection to the doctor. Hugh Dancy, who plays investigative reporter Adam Towers, gets about ten minutes of screen time. Indira Varma, Dr. Glass’s ex-wife Denise, and Charlotte Rampling, Glass’s colleague Milena, each have approximately fifteen to twenty minutes on camera. David Thewlis’s plotline necessitates a larger occupancy of onscreen time, although one may get distracted by recalling, “it’s Professor Lupin from Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban!”. Rather than contribute to character intrigue, these scenes are mere transitions for the story to get back to Tramell’s seductive manner of speaking and of being.
“Basic Instinct 2” fails as a sequel because we’re not in the 90s anymore. Gone are the days when characters could answer questions with questions and hypothetical situations and still sound clever and cool. It fails as a murder-mystery because the foregrounding of male suffering is neither transgressive nor terribly upsetting vis-à-vis David Slade’s “Hard Candy” and even Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day.” There are a few moments when you care whether or not Tramell is exploiting the psychiatrist’s trust and manipulating his friends and acquaintances, but it pales in comparison to the profound worry one feels for Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) from “Basic Instinct.”
The promise of Sharon Stone exposing slightly more than her breasts might constitute a tempting enough reason to give “Basic Instinct 2” a chance. While she looks pretty good for someone who isn’t Michelle Pfeiffer, when the ending credits start rolling, you’re not salivating at lead actress hotness. On the contrary, you’re stuck on whether Stone’s breasts are real, if she could smoke any more cigarettes, and if Charlotte Rampling had in fact said “Lacanian” at one point in the film.