Basic Instinct

US | 1992 | Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Logline: Whilst investigating a savage murder an edgy police detective becomes embroiled with the victim’s seductive and manipulative lover.

“A tale of love and murder so erotic, so unexpected, so bizarre, after you’ve read it you’ll make the one you love sleep on the couch… just to be sure.”

I can’t really remember my first impressions with Verhoeven’s third fully-fledged Hollywood production. It was slapped with an R18 classification, touting full-frontal nudity from Sharon Stone who had been on the verge of giving up acting, and a dark cocktail of Jack Daniels, lurid sexuality and brutal violence, a concoction that has always smelled so appealing to Verhoeven, the Dutch-born agent provocateur.

In many respects the director was remaking The 4th Man, his own Dutch-language erotic-thriller from nearly ten years earlier, about a man who should know better becoming involved with a dangerous woman who may very well end up killing him. Verhoeven had already enjoyed two successful science fiction movies with Tinseltown money, RoboCop and Total Recall. Now he turned his attention to a spec script that had sold at auction for $US3 million, the highest ever paid at the time. The screenwriter was Joe Eszterhas, who had penned Flashdance and Jagged Edge.

Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), of the San Francisco Police Department, along with his partner Gus (Goertge Dzundza), is investigating the death of a former rock star, viciously slain with an ice pick during sex. Curran is assigned to question the rock star’s girlfriend, Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone), who is a wealthy crime novelist. Sparks fly and before Curran has even time to blink he’s back on the booze and smoking again. Catherine has had quite the effect. Meanwhile Curran’s other romantic interest, Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a criminal psychologist, is trying to look out for Nick, as she suspects Catherine is a hungry wolf in Merino wool.

Basic Instinct is Verhoeven doing later Hitchcock. It’s not quite as obvious or deliberate as the most well-known Hitchcockian, Brian De Palma, but the signs are there. The use of high angle establishing shots, the big close-ups, the back and front projection during interior car scenes, the femme fatale, the double-crossing, and, most overtly, a shot looking down a spiral staircase that echoes Vertigo, Hitchcock’s classic tale of a man obsessed with a woman and the manipulative shenanigans that ensue.

But what really shines is the performance Verhoeven elicits from Sharon Stone, easily one of the best of her career. She is truly the star of this movie. It’s hard to be convinced by Michael Douglas as the kind of man who her character would be attracted to, and certainly the main sex scene is less titillating because of this, however Stone oozes such smoldering sex appeal that she more than makes up for Douglas’s thin-lipped, sleazemongering insipidness. The over-lit nightclub scene has Douglas, blatantly over-aged in a plunging v-neck jersey, perving at Catherine, whilst her spunky lesbian lover Roxy (Leilani Sarelle) grooves in the background. I’m sure this risible scene planted the seed of Showgirls in Verhoeven’s mind.

It's curious to note special makeup effects whiz, Rob Bottin, with a major  opening credit, and another during end credits, complete with a visual effects crew, when there is very little on screen, except a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the opening scene. Perhaps there was much more that ended up on he cutting room floor. Yes, the movie peters out during the last quarter, it would’ve been much stronger had it been fifteen or twenty minutes shorter, there's glamourised smoking, noticeable lack of DNA testing, and dodgy rough sex, but still, the sly twists and turns, the juicy dialogue, that interrogation scene, and, especially, the sexually-charged energy that Stone exudes makes Basic Instinct a noir-tinged late night shameless delight that still delivers, twenty-five years down the beaten track.