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(2006) (Sharon Stone, David Morrissey) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A psychoanalyst falls for his sexy client who may or may not be using the plot of her latest novel to cover a spree of murders that mirror those in her work.
Novelist Catherine Tramell (SHARON STONE) is an American novelist living in London who has just crashed her sports car into a body of water. She manages to escape, but her soccer star passenger does not, arousing the suspicion of detective Roy Washburn (DAVID THEWLISS) who wonders if the novelist might be back to her old tricks. More than a decade ago, she was tied to a series of high profile murders in San Francisco that echoed the way people died in her latest work, all while she had a torrid affair with the detective investigating her.

Accordingly, psychoanalyst Dr. Michael Glass (DAVID MORRISSEY) is called in to make a professional call on her mindset before charges are made against her, something he discusses with his associate Milena Gardosh (CHARLOTTE RAMPLING). He decides Catherine is addicted to risk, an assessment that brings her back to him when charges are dropped against her. Although reluctant to take her on as a client, he finds her alluring and the two enter into a doctor/client relationship.

While Washburn tries to prove she's up to something, things become more complicated for Glass when reporter Adam Towers (HUGH DANCY) -- who just so happens to be dating Michael's ex-wife Denise (INDIRA VARMA) and reportedly is writing an article accusing the psychoanalyst of knowing one of his former clients was about to murder someone in the past -- ends up dead.

Despite having something of a relationship with psychopharmacologist Michelle Broadwin (FLORA MONTGOMERY), Glass finds himself drawn to Catherine despite knowing better. As the bodies start piling up, he must figure out how to deal with her, all as Washburn tries to convince him that she's using him in a dangerous game of sex, manipulation and murder.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Being a middle-aged man not exactly known for sharing any attributes with an alluring seductress who uses her sultry sexuality to manipulate others, I can safely say I have little in common with the sort of woman known as a femme fatale. Yet, when Catherine Tramell states in the long-delayed "Basic Instinct 2" that the one thing she fears is boredom, I found myself in complete agreement with her.

Of course, for her, boredom means she's not taking any risks, and that's what her life revolves around -- sexually enticing people to manipulate them for whatever ends she desires. For me, boredom results in the quest to move on to something more interesting, a feeling most viewers will likely have after watching all or even just some of this overwrought but ultimately flat sequel to the original film.

All of which is both surprising and disappointing considering that the 1992 movie was such a guilty pleasure, and a campy hoot at that. Penned by the hottest writer from that decade -- Joe Eszterhas -- and directed with plenty of visual flair by Paul Verhoeven, the film featured Sharon Stone in a star-making turn as a seductive novelist who had the perfected the art of sultry manipulation.

The resultant dance between her and Michael Douglas' characters was like watching a slickly produced but totally engrossing train wreck, crafted to near perfection in manipulating the viewer with its mix of murder, steamy sex and a twisty, clever and sharply written plot. And with its scenes of bisexuality and that infamous, leg crossing moment that mesmerized moviegoers just as much as the men in that particular scene in which it occurred, "Basic Instinct" became the most talked about movie of the year.

Which is something that won't likely happen with this sequel that tries to recreate that magic by mining the same sort of material, but simply falls flat on its face (or make that occasionally bare bottoms). With Stone being the only one of the four main principals to return (director Michael Caton-Jones and writers Leora Barish & Henry Bean take up the spots behind the camera, while David Morrissey tries to fill the void left by Douglas' absence), the film simply doesn't work on any level, be that as a psychological thriller, campy guilty pleasure or even a soft-core skin flick.

The plot is just a slight variation of what occurred in the first film where some high-profile murders take place (a soccer star starts the ball rolling here compared to the rock star earlier), all as Stone's character manipulates everyone. And she does so while writing a novel that mostly mirrors what's occurring all around her and her puppets (thus eliciting the same sort of alibi of would she be dumb enough to commit the act and then write about it or vice-versa).

The problem is we've obviously seen that before, so the novelty angle is toast, while the new scribes don't manage to deliver the same sort of deliciously camp dialogue Eszterhas made a living from (the exception being the fun line "Even Oedipus didn't see his mother coming"). Then there's the fact that it takes a while for Caton-Jones to get a handle on the film's momentum as a hodgepodge of scenes (that likely could be rearranged randomly with no apparent difference) get the film off to a sputtering start.

He also makes the cardinal sin of reminding viewers too much of the earlier film (I know, it's mostly unavoidable and inevitable with a sequel). There's a techno disco scene where a male character follows a female one into the bathroom (with different results, of course), as well as a tease of that famous leg crossing scene (this time Stone straddles a chair in reverse with its back blocking what would impolitely be called the money shot everyone's waiting for).

The biggest problem, however, will be viewer apathy. Simply put, we don't care about the characters or what happens, even from the voyeuristic angle that worked so well in the first film. While Stone is game to reprise her breakout role (after a slew of films and TV shows that preceded it) and looks both great and courageous in showing all of her 48-year-old body, the earlier and magnetic "it" quality that fueled the original character has all but evaporated.

As has the chemistry and black widow type dance between her and her manipulative toy, psychoanalyst Michael Glass. Not remotely in the same league as Douglas from the first film, Morrissey is -- how shall I put this nicely -- awful in the role. Just as bland as the rest of the film, his performance is like a cinematic black hole, sucking away what little energy was being exuded into the abyss. With no support from those behind the camera, he simply flails about, providing little challenge for the femme fatale and not once giving us reason to believe he's been seduced by her beyond the script obviously calling for that.

Supporting performer David Thewliss -- who plays an offshoot of Douglas' character as the investigating cop -- would have been better as the intended victim (and I initially thought he was before Morrissey moseyed in), and there's some fire in his performance that ultimately goes nowhere. While more subdued, that latter descriptor also holds true for Charlotte Rampling as another shrink, while the rest of the cast is in a similar boat in terms of trying to do anything remotely interesting with their characters.

The first film's underlying theme (and the element that fueled it from start to finish) was that one's instincts both hindered and helped the characters get what they consciously and unconsciously wanted. The only likely innate reactions most viewers will likely have with this sequel will be to flee or simply fall asleep out of boredom, two reactions one shouldn't have for a film that's supposed to be a sexy, psychological thriller. About as boring as they come and certainly not of the same status as its predecessor, "Basic Instinct 2" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed March 28, 2006/ Posted March 31, 2006

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