A BRUTAL MURDER. A BRILLIANT KILLER. A COP WHO CAN’T RESIST THE DANGER.
Now and then comes along a film that starts a trend. The early 1990s genre of sleazy sex thrillers had mediocre fare like Sliver and disasters like Body of Evidence. But they were no match for Basic Instinct, a film that was not only sickeningly violent and unashamedly erotic (at least the version European audiences were offered) but also launched Sharon Stone’s career for real. Thanks to her, Michael Douglas and the talent of director Paul Verhoeven, this film is the sole survivor of the short-lived trend.
As the story begins, a man and a woman are having what might be described as great sex up until the moment when he’s about to climax and she stabs him to death with an ice pick. The victim was a well-connected former rock star and San Francisco police detectives Nick Curran and Gus Moran (Douglas, George Dzundza) start looking into the case. It turns out that the victim was dating a crime writer, Catherine Tramell (Stone), who’s written a book about a rock star getting stabbed to death with an ice pick.
How to deal with such a person, the police ask themselves, who decide to treat Tramell as possibly a very intelligent and disturbed person. After an interrogation that basically has the whole department intimidated by Tramell, Nick is helplessly drawn to her seductive but dangerous world…
Tense atmosphere with Hitchcockian touches
Once again, just as in Fatal Attraction (1987), Douglas plays a character who easily walks into traps set by vicious female figures out to destroy everything that’s decent about the male protagonist and his personal life. However, Nick Curran doesn’t have a family and he’s recently given up booze, coke and even cigarettes. He’s not a good boy and we know from the start that he will be willing to play games with Tramell. Douglas is very good in this type of role, because even though Nick can hardly be described as a hero, the actor turns him into someone we eventually want to see succeed. Stone is also terrific and very sexy as the icy, completely unreliable writer/shrink; she makes her character seem like the only one who has figured out sex and the power of lust while everyone else grapples with the concept and falls victim to its dangers.
Writer Joe Eszterhas became a hot commodity in Hollywood for a while, but his script shares too many crucial similarities to some of his earlier efforts, Jagged Edge (1985) and Music Box (1989); he’s a lazy writer and has to rely on Verhoeven to make the film work. The director delivers; the movie is fast-paced and has a very tense atmosphere with Hitchcockian touches (not least thanks to Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated, teasingly seductive score). The murder scenes are spectacular and bloody, matching the shock value of the very explicit bedroom action. The most memorable part of the film has become the interrogation scene where Stone uses her lack of panties as a direct weapon against Wayne Knight’s line of questioning.
The movie stirred up controversy as some gay and lesbian groups protested against the portrayal of bisexuals. Fair enough, but maybe they should have worried more about the dialogue and general silliness of the story, even if a surface as slick as this gets you far.
Basic Instinct 1992-U.S. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Alan Marshall. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Screenplay: Joe Eszterhas. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Cast: Michael Douglas (Nick Curran), Sharon Stone (Catherine Tramell), George Dzundza (Gus Moran), Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle… Stephen Tobolowsky.
Trivia: Kelly Lynch, Kelly McGillis and Lena Olin were allegedly considered for the part of Catherine. Followed by Basic Instinct 2 (2006).
Quote: “Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick? It’s nice.” (Stone to Douglas)
Last word: “I’ve always delivered the movie to the MPAA as I wanted it to be. And I found myself confronted by people who felt that certain elements in my movie were too strong. So you end up with the European version of ‘Basic Instinct’, which is the director’s cut, and was the one that was released all over Europe and many other countries, and then there is the American version, which is really different from the original version, and has been released in Australia, the United States, and Korea. So these are three countries that didn’t accept my original cut. So basically, you put them together, then you see what the difference is.” (Verhoeven, A.V. Club)