Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Basic Instinct


Virtually Vicki , my brilliant new infomercial showcasing all of my lines of fine consumer products for today’s woman, is now in the can. The raw footage has gone off to the lab to be spliced and shaped into one of the great half hours of late night cable television of our time. Joseph is working overtime, trying to strike a deal with Lifetime or Oxygen to properly showcase the piece for both its entertainment and mercantile values. Looking over the rushes, I'm especially proud of the Lesterene make-up tap number and Maxine, the human cannonball, as she demonstrates the quality and durability of Maine's Manes from House O'Hair wigs. Her scalp injuries from the Durabond cement don't show at all in the camera angles I've selected.

Joseph also had other exciting news. He didn't have the letter in front of him so he and I may have gotten some of the names wrong - please forgive me. Apparently, I, Mrs. Norman Maine (or MNM to my friends) have been asked to host something called the hippy-hop awards. I think that was the term. Apparently the committee thinks that my angry young tap will mesh well with the other host, a Mr. P Dippy, who used to be known as Puff Daffy. I'm not familiar with this man - I assume he must be one of the new generation of tappers, like Savion Glover. I never turn down an awards show so I told Joseph to send an immediate confirmation. The show is to be at the Apollo Theater in New York in several months time. What an improvement over Wymore and Salina.

Feeling somewhat elated with all the good news in my life, I repaired to the home theater, determined to celebrate life as a diva. The first diva film I found in my ‘to view’ pile was Basic Instinct , the 1992 film that catapulted Sharon Stone to stardom. I'm a little miffed at Sharon currently over that Komodo dragon incident but I do have to admit she's sensational in this movie and is unlikely to ever be this good again. Sharon had been kicking around Hollywood for a decade and, despite a greatish performance and good notices for Irreconcilable Differences (where she played a minimally talented actress starring in a musical remake of Gone With the Wind ), she spent most of her time in dreck like Alan Quartermaine and the Lost City of Gold . She had worked with director Paul Verhoeven on Total Recall several years before, and lobbied him long and hard to let her read for the lead role in this film. He relented, liked what he saw, and the rest is cinema history.

Basic Instinct is high gloss trash masquerading as a movie, but it's so expertly made, and Sharon Stone is so mesmerizing as Catherine Trammell, you almost cease to care. As the film opens, an aging rock star is brutally murdered with an ice pick by a woman during sex. Suspicion immediately falls on his girlfriend, Catherine, who has a hundred million dollars in the bank, the sleek, cool demeanor of a Hitchcockian ice princess, and no alibi. The only problem is that she wrote a novel, several years prior to this event, in which a man was murdered in just such a way. Is Catherine a psychopathic murderess or is someone trying to set her up? Enter homicide detectives Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and his partner Gus (George Dzundza). They suspect Catherine but have no evidence. Nick is unstable, having been involved in some prior shooting episodes of dubious merit, trying to cope with the suicide of his wife, and recovering from a drug problem. He’s in counseling where his therapy includes having an affair with his police psychiatrist (Jeanne Trippelhorn). As Nick grows closer to Catherine, he becomes involved with her and her girl toy Roxy (Leilani Sarelle) - then more people start to die. This leads to double crosses, dissembling, hidden pasts, car chases, more murders, kinky sex scenes, and an ending that's both a cheat and makes no psychological sense.

The script is by Joe Eszterhas who has basically been writing the same erotic thriller over and over again since Jagged Edge . His patented recipe is to combine brutal murder, kinky sex, erotic partners who couple in uncomfortable situations without really knowing each other, and a couple of action set pieces. Sometimes the results work (Jagged Edge). Sometimes you get Showgirls . Curtis Edmonds, a film reviewer I much admire, has suggested that the word eszterhasian be added to the lexicon to describe an adolescent approach to eroticism fueled by too many media images and not enough real life experience. Somebody call the folks at the OED. If you sit down after the film and try to figure out the plot, you'll find more holes that Swiss cheese. It's one of those films where everyone must be telepathic as people are always running into each other at just the right moment or entering each other’s homes without a key for just the right confrontation. It's also one of the misogynistic films on record - there are four female characters. Every single one of them is a murderess with a twisted sexuality. I'd say the odds of that happening in life are about the same as being struck by a meteor. Eszterhas’s puerile sexual indulgences and his fondness for the phallic/rape imagery of murder by stabbing make one wonder just a bit about his own psychosexual development.

Verhoeven, however, takes this piece of tripe and tarts it up with sterling production values and terrific pacing. You don't notice the holes and the baling wire holding things together because you're too busy ogling the gorgeous locations, the elegant costumes, the soft fuzzy lighting of the kinky sex scenes, and, when things get a little slow, there's a high speed car chase - usually geographically impossible. I've never known anyone to get from the Mission to Moscone Center by way of Russian Hill. Jerry Goldsmith's haunting, eerie score also gives the film a lot of its punch.

Sharon Stone is a wonder as Catherine. It's difficult to take your eyes off her when she's on screen (the styling and make-up helps). The infamous interrogation scene, where she mesmerizes a room full of men in her little white cocktail frock without any underwear, shows an actress, and a character, totally in command. And it's only one of a dozen great scenes for her in the film. I can understand why, when she read the script, she went for it. She knew it was a star making part. It's her movie and she knows it.

Michael Douglas plays Michael Douglas. He does it well - he's been doing it for years. There's nothing particularly special about him. Any competent fortyish male leading man could have done it. George Dzundza, who's underused in film, provides most of the comic relief and the only recognizable human being on screen. Jeanne Tripplehorn, in her feature film debut, has a pretty thankless role. She tries her best to handle the implausible situations the script throws at her but it would be beyond any actress to make something of a psychologist who has rough sex with her patient, who may or may not be stalking others, and who seems to have a permanent aerobics class outside her apartment window. As written, it's difficult to believe this woman managed to get out of Voc-Tech, much less attained a graduate degree. I keep expecting her to ask 'Do you want fries with that?'

The whole plot revolves around ice picks, which seem to be the murder weapon of choice, even though they went out with the invention of the ice cube. That gives you a pretty good idea of what Eszterhas thinks of his audience.

Bart Simpson key chain. Artfully designed oversize sweatshirts. Cocaine lines. Multiple gratuitous car chases. Pink and blue neon nightclub. Overcrowded men's room. Naked Sharon Stone. Naked Michael Douglas. Naked Jeanne Tripplehorn. No naked George Dzundza. Gratuitous country western dancing. Hermes white silk scarves. Gift palm tree.

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