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The second time around


For fans of Sharon Stone, the 14-year hiatus between Basic Instinct --- where the actress wowed audiences with one of the most famous shots in recent film history --- and the imaginatively titled Basic Instinct 2 must seem an eternity. Whether the wait for the long-promised sequel was worthwhile remains to be seen, but the new movie should at least allow the actress' admirers another opportunity to enjoy her character, her beauty, and her behavior in some familiar situations. If it omits the notorious money shot, the movie includes sufficient strong language, nudity, and sex to qualify it as an appropriate successor to the original, so to speak, and as another example of that contemporary descendant of film noir, the erotic thriller.

Sharon Stone again plays successful mystery writer Catherine Tramell, now transplanted to London, where she opens the film by driving her expensive sports car at high speed off a bridge while engaging in a sexual act with a soccer star. She survives, but the athlete, paralyzed by drugs that she may have provided, does not, which precipitates a police inquiry. The investigation draws a psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey), called upon to examine the writer, into her world, which initiates another excursion into the darkness of sensual obsession.

In a plot that depends upon a series of conflicting and questionable versions of the truth, a relatively small set of characters, all victims of multiple falsehoods and deceptions, revolves around the compelling and seductive personality of Catherine Tramell. Dr. Glass bears a considerable load of personal baggage, including his angry ex-wife and her boyfriend, a journalist apparently bent on smearing him for a tragic mistake in his past involving a patient who committed murder. In addition to his guilt over that failure, he fears that the news story may torpedo his appointment to a prestigious academic post.

When the psychiatrist agrees to take on the mystery writer as a patient, he discovers the full potential of her manipulation. She tells him a number of dubious and shockingly salacious stories, teases and provokes him, and keeps turning up in various areas of his life. He encounters her at professional gatherings, on the arm of a prestigious shrinker (with the requisite Viennese accent) whose approval Glass needs for the appointment he covets. Catherine apparently sleeps with one of his female colleagues and both his ex-wife and his ex-wife's lover, and corpses keep bobbing up in the wake of her conquests.

Dr. Glass' obsession with Catherine leads the doctor down a dark and tangled path of decadence, violence, and murder. Ignoring the warnings of a detective colleague (David Thewlis) who suspects Catherine of the several killings and who also knows the psychiatrist's past, Glass progresses from physician to observer to participant in the writer's kinky sex life, another victim of her manipulation and seduction.

The movie's violent, sexy plot takes a number of twists and turns, ending with a final murder and a pat and quite ingenious solution to all the mysteries that echoes the ambiguity of the original film. Much of the action and subsequent retrospective explanations defy the usual strictures of logic and common sense, which hardly operate at peak efficiency in the picture anyway, but the whole complicated business moves along at a quick enough pace to cover up the numerous implausibilities.

Aside from the lubricious voyeurism that constitutes its chief appeal, the picture depends mostly on its terrific appearance. The sets and locations, including a remarkable glass bullet of a building where the doctor practices his dubious treatment, a couple of pubs, and a luxurious apartment where the writer plies her seductive ways (though how she finds time to write remains the film's greatest mystery) make London seem a dazzling contemporary city, far more modern than its grand history suggests.

As for the other important visual element, one of those minor Michelangelos of Hollywood has apparently sculpted a new Sharon Stone from the original, a transformation that maintains her beauty and sex appeal, but also affects her acting, which remains as frozen and monotonous as the fixed expression of her face lift. Her coarse voice and constant sneer seldom convey more than a kind of systematic contempt for everyone in the picture --- several actually deserve it --- and may finally constitute the best reaction to the movie itself.

Basic Instinct 2 (R), directed by Michael Caton-Jones, is playing at PittsfordPlaza, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge Center 12, and Henrietta 18.