Picks and Pans Review: Basic Instinct

updated 03/30/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone

"Everybody that I am close to dies!" Stone cries out about halfway through the film. Do they ever. Her fabulously wealthy parents have long since been blown to smithereens in a boat explosion; Stone's male lover, a former rock star, catches it in the neck with an ice pick during a moment of rapture; and her female lover is begging for catastrophe. Moreover, protesting her innocence all the while, Stone has been writing lurid novels based on these tragedies—usually before the ghastly facts. Enter Douglas where he began a couple of decades back, on The Streets of San Francisco, as the Bay Area's most handsome—and now most disaster-prone—detective, who sets off on the track of a killer even as the killer stalks him.

Nothing quite tracks in Basic Instinct, a film that is every bit as exhilarating, exhausting and seductively repellent as advance notices would lead you to believe. Aptly titled, this is a visceral movie, all supple flesh and slickly barbaric fantasy, leaving the audience with a sensation more akin to a communal hormone injection than a common visual experience. Director Paul (Total Recall) Verhoeven has such fun conjuring up old film noir tricks (dirty secrets, false endings) that he has no time left to attend to plot; the characters just pause now and again to commit brutally erotic or erotically brutal acts upon one another.

Stone makes a captivating California witch who ranges exquisitely from tragic temptress to (possibly) manipulative murderess. Stone's slithery blond allure is nicely balanced by her starchy, dark-haired counterpart, screen newcomer Jeanne Tripplehorn as a police psychologist who, given the self-destructive desperation of her own loves, surely needs some time on the couch herself. Douglas is clearly destined to look and sound more like his father, Kirk, with each passing year. He hasn't quite reached his dad's level of anguished intensity yet. Maybe the difference is that Kirk was a ragman's son and Michael is not. Still, he's a powerful presence and almost persuasive enough to make you believe that a shrewd cop pursuing a woman suspected of ice-picking her lover in bed would allow said suspect, however beguiling she might be, to lash him to a bedpost with her scarf.

Gay activists around the country have already launched a crusade against Basic Instinct, arguing that the film is homophobic because it portrays lesbians and bisexuals as psychopathic killers. Their protest gives the film credit for a seriousness it doesn't deserve and probably assures its megabox office success in the bargain. Whatever merit the activists' claims may have, though, it somehow seems redundant to hate a movie wherein the principals revel so wantonly in self-loathing. (R)

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