I remember well reading the script for Basic Instinct before it came out. I couldn’t wait because the director was Paul Verhoeven, who up until that time, could do no wrong. His previous SEVEN movies had all been excellent (Total Recall, RoboCop, Flesh+Blood, The 4th Man, Spetters, Soldier of Orange, and Keetje Tippel), and in fact, he had NEVER directed a bad film up to that point.
I was appalled at the script for Basic Instinct. It was the worst sort of doggerel imaginable. The humor was adolescent and sniggering, the plot was pretty much suspenseless, the characters uniformly unlikable, the psychology laughable. What scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas tried to pass off as byzantine intrigue was turgid soap opera gibberish. The character of Gus, Nick’s best friend and partner, was an utter cliche, tiresomely moralistic, and might as well have had a bullseye tattooed on him. Basically, Joe Eszterhas’ script was a complete piece of #*&%^ from start to finish. I groaned every 2 or 3 pages while I was reading it and when I finished, I threw it across the room. I would’ve used the script for toilet paper, but it was borrowed.
But something funny happened on the way to the red carpet premiere.
The casting director hit it out of the park, famously with Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammel, the suspense novelist suspected of being a serial killer. Michael Douglas too is fine as the dumbass white putz of privilege he so often seems to play. But what was really impressive is how deep the casting is, right down to the smallest character role. George Dzundza even manages to make the tut-tutting Gus almost likable, a small miracle.
The direction by Verhoeven as usual has a ton of energy, which isn’t much of a surprise, but I hadn’t remembered the camera moves being so elegant.
The cinematography by Verhoeven’s usual cinematographer, Jan De Bont, positively glows. It’s incredibly vivid — it’s pure candy, visually speaking.
The score is just as exceptional as you would expect from one of the best in the business, Jerry Goldsmith.
The special makeup effects are by Rob Bottin, the genius who did the makeup effects for John Carpenter’s The Thing and Silence of the Lambs.
Basically, this filmmaking dream team took a ghastly script by uberhack Joe Eszterhas and turned it into a halfway decent movie. Not great, mind you. But it’s fascinating to watch the filmmakers prop up this dead corpse of a script and make it come to fitful, zombified life.
The plot? In case you’ve been a hermit for the past 15 years, a rock star has been murdered, and novelist Catherine Trammel happened to be sleeping with the guy. Trigger happy cop Nick simultaneously investigates and has an affair with Trammel while his partner Gus makes disapproving noises. Bodies drop like flies and red herrings abound. Did she or didn’t she? Yawn. For those of you who like beaver shots, use the freeze frame function during the interrogation sequence and take a gander at Sharon Stone’s nearly hairless pussy. That should perk you up.
Which raises the question, is Basic Instinct’s reputation for cutting edge eroticism deserved? Well, I suppose it’s somewhat explicit by Hollywood standards, but the sex is more clinical than anything else. From the standpoint of the Nick character, it’s kind of pathetic. Michael Douglas comes off as an aging legend in his own mind, like a middle-aged guy with a receding hairline who wears black to hide his paunch and hangs out at dance clubs hoping to pick up teenagers. At least the so-called erotic content isn’t downright laughable, as it was in Paul Verhoeven’s farcical Showgirls, also written by the shameless Joe Eszterhas.
In the end, thanks to the efforts of an incredibly talented filmmaking team, Basic Instinct is better than it has any right to be, but it’s still fairly tedious. How ironic that this would-be erotic thriller will probably be what world class director Paul Verhoeven is best remembered for, in the United States at least.
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