Though many years and straight-to-video Shannon Tweed knockoffs have passed, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct retains a special allure, one that can be attributed in large part to the uncrossing of Sharon Stone's legs. Granted, there's much more to the movie than that notorious interrogation scene, but no better example of the film's unique mix of vulgarity and elegance, which brought Old Hollywood into a world of trashy explicitness. Sitting with her blond hair pinned back like Kim Novak—one of several nods to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo—Stone carries herself with the supreme self-confidence of a classic femme fatale, yet her candor is unquestionably modern, liberated from more than just undergarments. Unapologetically sexual, as free as a man to pursue her appetites, Stone's character became an instant post-feminist icon, even though she's a diabolical sociopath.
As a measure of Stone's seductive powers, hard-living San Francisco detective Michael Douglas recognizes that she's a sinister manipulator, suspects from the start that she's responsible for at least one brutal slaying, and still finds her irresistible. In one of the many nouveau-riche pleasure palaces that line the film, police find the body of a washed-up rocker, his arms tied to a bed and his body riddled with puncture wounds. Suspicion immediately falls on his frequent sexual partner Stone, a wealthy, promiscuous single woman who also happens to have written a novel about a rock star killed by his girlfriend. Is the book a perfect alibi, or is she pulling a double-reverse bluff? Perhaps Douglas' on-again/off-again girlfriend Jeanne Tripplehorn, a police psychologist who's the demure Barbara Bel Geddes to Stone's sexy Novak, knows more than she's letting on.
Re-released on DVD in anticipation of a sequel 14 years in the making, the "Ultimate Edition" of Basic Instinct reprises all the best features from the Artisan DVD (commentary by Verhoeven and cinematographer Jan de Bont, an above-average making-of documentary, and a funny feature on cleaning up the language for TV), adds a new introduction and interview with Stone, and takes away that awesome ice-pick pen that came with the original packaging. Still, it's a good enough excuse to revisit the film, which along with RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls, could be read as part of Verhoeven's subversive take on America—its values, its excesses, and its cinema.
Key features: The Verhoeven commentary, as always, is a must.