Basic Instinct Review
Paul Verhoeven has made some seminal movies over the last two decades. The peak being the ultra-violent, satirical Robocop, with the ultra-satirical, violent Starship Troopers also solid, and Total Recall, based on the Philip K Dick novel, making for one of the more visionary Schwarzenegger action romps. His passion for excess spilled over into the nineties sex-thriller Basic Instinct, which starred then relative newcomer Sharon Stone (even though she was already 34 at the time) and Michael Douglas, who had picked up the Oscar a few years earlier with Wall Street. Many movies were more sexually explicit both before and after this, but few managed to strike such a stylish balance between ultra-violence, thrills and genuinely sexy exploits. Many have tried to, but often still came across as merely excuses for gratuitous sex and nudity. Here, Verhoeven actually made it seem totally in line with the material.
After the brutal mid-coital slaying of a coked-up rock star, reckless Detective Nick Curran is assigned to find the killer. Nicknamed 'shooter' for his own fondness of cocaine, and also the fact that he accidently shot an innocent whilst on duty, Nick is a maverick, on-the-edge type who is prepared to do whatever it takes to close the case. It is not long before the trail leads to femme fatale Catherine Tremell, girlfriend of the man ice-picked to death, who also happens to have written a book about a murder taking place in exactly the same way. The chemistry between the two is almost instantaneous, and Nick's obsession with Catherine leads him to a dark place where he no longer knows who he can trust. Is Catherine really a psychotic serial killer and, if so, will Nick be able to stop her, or will he merely become another pawn in her web of deceit and desire?
Basic Instinct manages to satisfy on so many different levels. It actually works remarkably well as a police thriller, with genuinely gruesome deaths, thrilling car-chase sequences and plot twists aplenty. It just has a whole bucket-load of sex and nudity thrown into the pot, which works remarkably well. By stripping the thriller out of this affair, Verhoeven managed to later go on to make Showgirls, one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies ever made - so bad that it is actually worth studying as the dictionary definition of trite - but with Basic Instinct he got it just right. The excesses worked perfectly, and so did the casting.
Sharon Stone was a little-known actress before this, having previously played Steven Seagal's wife in his first action movie and Schwarzenegger's wife in Verhoeven's own sci-fi actioner Total Recall, but having never been fully recognised until she got this leg-uncrossing part. Sure, she will always be remembered for that scene, but it should not be forgotten that she does sexy here extremely well, despite the fact that coming back for a sequel nearly fifteen years later was an absolutely ludicrous idea - and almost ruined any fond memories you might of had of her shenanigans here. Opposite her we have Michael Douglas, who does cop-on-the-edge like he invented the caricature himself. It's the same role he had in Black Rain, just with a bunch of sex thrown into the mix, but the chemistry between him and Stone is quite apparent and the dangerous relationship holds the thriller together.
Supporting kudos goes to George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter, Crimson Tide) as Curran's portly partner who may be a little rough around the edges, but generally has a better handle on the case than his emotionally-driven partner. Jeanne Tripplehorn (The Firm, Waterworld) is suitably feisty as Curran's department-appointed shrink and sometime girlfriend, although she does get one of those dubious sex scenes where male directors appear to flirt with the idea of 'no' meaning 'yes' and consent being an abstract concept. It's not quite a Straw Dogs affair, but it is still a little misogynistic. Finally it's worth noting Leilani Sarelle, who has got some of the best 'attitude' moments in the movie, as Catherine's sexy and extremely jealous girlfriend Roxy. Verhoeven knows how to pick his supporting cast well, and always has (apart from the aforementioned Showgirls), this being no exception.
Tautly directed, full of thrills and blood and twists and turns, and pretty frantic sex, Basic Instinct was something of a milestone in filmmaking, and set a strange sort of standard which has never since been met. It's not exactly a piece of art, but it is still an oddly compelling piece of uber-stylish, uber-violent extreme viewing. Never unpalatable and never skipping a beat, this enjoyable affair has become something of a cult classic, and is worth adding to your collection.