BASIC INSTINCT proved that back in 1992, filmmakers bottom-line instincts about audiences bottom-dwelling instincts were as clued-in as a stripper’s eye for suckers eyeballing. Guilty as charged. The three or bucks yours truly parted with at the time helped make it the 9th-most successful picture of the year in the sex-obsessed U.S. Which is not to say the rest of the planet’s horndogs didn’t cough up, as it went #4 worldwide. Yeah, go see this orgasmically-advertised grind & stab-saturated item, and then complain that it has too much sex and violence? Hypocrisy, thy name is You. Where are Sharon Stone’s uncrossed legs when we need them?
Wild sex culminated with murder by icepick: just another night in San Francisco. Immediate suspect is the ice’d guy’s girlfriend, ‘Catherine Tramell’ (Sharon Stone), a high-maintenance, swings-both-ways, rich, hydrogen-bombshell crime writer. Detective ‘Nick Curran’ (Michael Douglas) is on the case, because movie thriller logic presumes that the best dick to sic on an impossibly hot, cold-blooded murderess is one with a few pesky personal issues—multiple substance abuse, Internal Affairs enemies, line-of-fire killings and a belfry-bound ex (Jeanne Tripplehorne) into rough-love, who also is his department shrink. Jovial partner (George Dzundza) counsels a big head approach, but since he’s jovial, is named Gus and we like him, don’t count on his getting a pension. Catherine has a kinky playmate (Leilani Sarelle), another reason to (a) raise suspicion and (b) consider a move to the Bay Area.
The sensational material doesn’t need to make any real-world sense because it’s directed, cast, shot and scored so well, with Paul Verhoeven fearlessly and merrily taking us into Hitchcock territory, minus the good bad taste Alfred operated on. Douglas, 47, had seedy-slick down to a tee, having already stained honor and sheets with attitude-prone dames in Fatal Attraction and War Of The Roses. Tripplehorne, 29, makes an indelible—and unsettling—impression in her film debut—her eyes fairly scream “run away!” As a homage to film noir vamps, there’s a tiny visit from Dorothy Malone, 68, her last screen appearance. Sleek cinematography was by Jan de Bont. A major assist is the superb score from Jerry Goldsmith, weaving a sinuous web of mystery that summons the spell cast by Bernard Herrmann for Vertigo. Goldsmith considered this one of his best; it earned him his 16th Oscar nomination. The film editing from Frank J. Urioste (Robocop, Die Hard) was also nominated. The controversy-generating script was written by Joe Eszterhas.
The frenzied sex, taunting dialogue, compelling locations, lovely yet sinister score, game supporting cast and bed-vetted leading man all are at the beck & call of Sharon Stone’s legendary breakthrough as one of the most memorable vixens in movie history. Lasering in on Catherine’s mesmerizing attributes like a panther at a sheep convention, Stone at 33 exudes carnal candor like she owned the patent. Add carriage, humor and a survivor’s triumphant knowledge that ‘whatever else the bastards do, they will never forget this‘. **
Support on hand from excellent character types: Denis Arndt, Chelcie Ross, Wayne Knight, Daniel van Bargen, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jack McGee, James Rebhorn. 128 minutes. Cost: 49,000,000. Take, in we’re-shocked! America: $117,900,000. Post-coital smoke on Planet-Sex: $352,900,000. *
* Douglas commanded $15,000,000, 32% of the film’s budget. Stone, who’d been around for ten years without breaking big (doing good work in Irreconcilable Differences and Total Recall) was paid $500,000. In 2006, she fearlessly and unwisely showed up again in Basic Instinct 2 to small boxoffice and horrible reviews. She did get payback pay to the tune of $13,500,000, twenty-seven times what she was doled originally, so who laughed all the way to the bank? Answer: Catherine Tramell.
** Cost/benefit probe—-Classic film lore says that in 1934, when Clark Gable went bare chested in It Happened One Night, the nation’s t-shirt business took it on the chin. Did a 1992 rush of icepick sales compensate for a downtown in panty purchases? I know that’s the first thing that came to mind when I
paused watched the interrogation scene.