Considering how badly mangled Joe Eszterhas’s script of Basic Instinct is—having been compromised out of its juicy peek-a-boo salacity because of all the politically correct protests (re: Lynn Hirschberg’s lengthy piece in the August 1991 Vanity Fair, the one with the Demi Moore preggers cover)—the surprise is whatever managed to stay in works. Barely, of course, as the plot goes every which way: you’ll recognize early the appropriations from Larry Kasdan’s Body Heat (the farty zingers) and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (another ball-busting fem). If you’ve got a good memory, you’ll even see bits of The Detective, the 1968 bummer starring Frank Sinatra. And, fairly, there’s cause to charge Eszterhas with stealing from his previous thriller Jagged Edge. The biggest steal is from William Friedkin’s 1980 Cruising. You can guess where Eszterhas was headed—deep into the underground of explicit audience voyeurism. (He’d eventually get there with Showgirls.) Likewise badly mutilated because of gay protesters, Cruising dealt with a killer on the loose in the gay S & M bars of New York City. We sort of know who the killer is, but the chopped editing and Al Pacino’s look of (possible) addiction to popperish sex at the end suggest otherwise. Frustrating in its incompleteness, the movie came as close as any major American picture to show the infectious heat of gay bar promiscuity. Basic Instinct changes preference and locale; it’s about a killer lez on the prowl in San Fagcisco. Director Paul Verhoeven, whose chi-chi The 4th Man makes him no stranger to gay themes or genital exposure, hasn’t entirely acquiesced to the pressure groups because his (and Eszterhas’) lesbians are still murderous villains. Yet he cautiously avoids lesbian sex: even when the girls kiss, or are gyrating together on the dance floor, it’s sexless. (Coral Browne’s Cobra Woman in The Killing of Sister George may still be a definitive erotic dyke—when she sucks on Susannah York’s breast, there’s a real charge in the atmosphere.) Verhoeven’s timidity seems displacing too: if we believe the “hot letters” sections of men’s magazines, the number one fantasy men have is watching women make it with one another. And being ice-pickers in Basic Instinct should add edge, or at least increase the power of the masturbatory orgasms. Verhoeven saves the hot bangs for bisexual author Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas, the Johnny Law “shooter” who’s addicted to and trying to get off the booze, cocaine and cancer sticks. They have one good romp, and while orchestrated and edited with taste, the real heat between them is when they have their clothes on and Jan De Bont’s camera is right on top of them, which is quite frequent. The games these two play with each other is probably what’s left of the tampered screenplay; close up, we watch with mild fascination who will be screwed first and keeping us wondering is the film’s one success. Earning $15 million for his puny buns, dark scrotal sac and re-pumped pecs, Douglas reaches the highest step on his low ladder of sexiness; in Romancing the Stone he pours on the Coppertone, here he’s spraying Bain de Soleil. The hottest bit he has is on the dance floor, attempting to convince us he’s loaded with unspent testosterone, which has been building up ever since Stone’s inviting beaver shot. We’re not allowed much knowledge about his character; what we’re granted is Douglas posing, matching Stone’s. Not news she’s a pretty and pretty consistent one-noter; she doesn’t have much expandable range of emotions, having tried in Casino, only to end up a screamer exhausting us. But playing a comfortably singular psycho tease she has fun confusing the screen lie detector. Given what she’s got to work with and her likability, she gets the job done. There’s gore galore, and when Dorothy Malone pops in, it’s anyone’s guess wtf she’s up to.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.