Almost 30 years later, “Basic Instinct” (now streaming on Netflix) has kept its basics as a marvelously adult thriller.
Director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas stirred considerable discord — even with their leading lady — when the film was released in 1992, but it remains a lushly filmed and well-performed melodrama that did nothing to diminish the box-office power Michael Douglas was enjoying at the time. He’d earned a best-actor Oscar for “Wall Street,” but he was still the go-to star to play men prone to give in to their emotional weaknesses.
Here, that man is Nick Curran, a San Francisco homicide detective still recovering from a tragic incident that welded his job to his personal vices … thus earning him the nickname “Shooter.” His investigation of an ex-rock star’s vicious murder-via-ice-pick puts him and his partner Gus (the ever-likable George Dzundza) in the trajectory of the victim’s girlfriend: Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a behaviorally cool novelist who’s basing her newest book on Curran, to his evident dismay.
Her attitude does little to dissuade the cops that they should consider her a suspect in the killing, affirmed by their police-station interrogation of her (in a famous scene that Stone reportedly was furious about, maintaining that Verhoeven filmed her in a prurient way she didn’t expect). Even as Curran can’t make up his mind about her professed innocence, he’s drawn to her, a fact that doesn’t please Catherine’s live-in girlfriend (Leilani Sarelle, later known by her then-married last name Ferrer, and impressively tough and vulnerable at the same time here).
While “Basic Instinct” doesn’t stint on violence, most assuredly in the film’s opening, it also has a visual elegance enhanced by a score by movie-music icon Jerry Goldsmith. That’s a particularly effective merger in scenes filmed on highways along the California coastline, and also in a cat-and-mouse car chase that sees Curran tail Catherine to the home of her mentor (veteran actress Dorothy Malone), who happens to be a notorious killer. The look and sound also mesh well in moments between Douglas and Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays Curran’s psychologist and still-hooked-on-him former flame.
The enormous success of “Basic Instinct” led to an unfortunately inevitable “Basic Instinct 2” 14 (!) years later, with Stone reprising her role in an inferior retread of the first movie’s plot. It was so little-seen, at least in America, that it hasn’t tarnished its forerunner’s reputation. Our instinct is to get engrossed in the original all over again.