The first question, of course, is whether "Basic Instinct" is really as sleazy and violent as all the pre-release hype would have us believe? Oh, yes, it's very sleazy and it's quite violent.
The second question is about the film's R rating - is it really the hardest R yet? No, not really. But that's hardly a recommendation.The film opens with a graphic sex scene that culminates with a vicious murder, as the woman, whose face is obscured by her hair, wildly stabs the man with an icepick, over and over as blood spurts everywhere.
The next morning we meet the film's central character, a San Francisco homicide detective who is part of the team investigating the murder, played with sullen brooding by Michael Douglas.
He's a former cocaine addict and alcoholic who accidentally shot and killed a tourist couple when they got in the line of fire during a drug bust. His nickname, "Shooter," is spoken with a condescending air by members of Internal Affairs, which is still watching him.
Douglas is also having an affair with the police psychologist (Jeanne Tripplehorn) who is evaluating him, and in one scene takes her home and rapes her. Or is it merely consensual rough sex? The distinction isn't very clear and sets the tone for similarly sleazy moments that will also lack definition.
The icepick murder victim was a retired, respected rock star, whose girlfriend, a rich, bisexual author of murder mysteries, is the prime suspect. She is played with ice-queen coolness by Sharon Stone, best-known as Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife in the first portion of "Total Recall."
Douglas and his good-ol'-boy partner (George Dzundza) are sent out to Stone's home and there is an immediate connection between Douglas and Stone. Soon, Douglas discovers that Stone knows all about him and is using him as a model for the protagonist in her new novel (called "Shooter").
What's more, Stone's latest book is about a rock star who is murdered with an icepick. Did she copy her book and commit murder? Is the book an alibi - after all, who would be so dumb as to copy her own book and be an automatic suspect?
All of this leads to wild car chases that may remind movie fans of "Bullitt," San Francisco settings that bring to mind "Vertigo" and, as Stone's character becomes more of an enigma, a character that echoes Kim Novak or Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's later thrillers. (Even Jerry Goldsmith's over-the-top, but ingratiating score brings to mind Bernard Herr-mann, who did the music for many a Hitchcock classic.)
Director Paul Verhoeven ("Total Recall," "RoboCop") is a slick technician (though the swooping crane shots get to be a bit obvious), and there are some exciting and striking moments in "Basic Instinct." But the script, by Joe Eszterhaus (which reportedly got Hollywood into a bidding war and ultimately sold for the record-breaking price of $3 million), is a rag-tag mishmash that recycles everything from "Dressed to Kill" and "Body Heat" to "Cruising" and even Eszterhaus' own "Jagged Edge."
The performances here are not particularly noteworthy, with the possible exception of Stone. I've never found her particularly convincing in her other films; she's a bit too aloof and distanced. But here, those traits seem to work for the character. It's just too bad the character is so exploitative - she spends much of the movie in the buff.
As for the controversy concerning lesbian characters in the film - are they exploited as man-hating, masculine stereotypes? Yes, but on the other hand, other characters are equally exploited stereotypes - police, psychologists, even men in general. Nobody comes off as sympathetic in this picture.
In the end, "Basic Instinct" is tedious and tiresome. The mystery isn't all that mysterious and the plot points become more and more predictable. (It's quite easy to tick off who's going to die and when.)
It's hard to believe that every studio in Hollywood thought this was a screenplay worth $3 million.
"Basic Instinct" is rated R for considerable violence, sex, nudity and profanity.