Like fellow late bloomer George Clooney, Sharon Stone's career was going nowhere until it suddenly exploded. Stone had been promenading about the lower rungs of show business for over a decade before scoring the female lead in 1992's Basic Instinct. She'd done a tasteful Playboy spread and appeared in lots of low-budget, quickly forgotten fare with titles like Calendar Girls Murder and Blood And Sand without quite cracking the big time.
Stone seemed headed for a career full of direct-to-video erotic thrillers with names like Sordid Obsession or, um, Risk Addiction until she caught the fancy of Paul Verhoeven, one of world cinema's premier evil geniuses and a man who understands the primal appeal of an icy blonde like no one since Alfred Hitchcock. Verhoeven cast her in a juicy, attention-grabbing role as Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife in Total Recall. Later, when Kim Basinger, Emma Thompson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kelly Lynch, Greta Scacchi, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, and Geena Davis all passed on the lead role in Basic Instinct, Verhoeven turned to Stone. Yes, Verhoeven had a strong hunch that audiences all over the world would pay good money to see Sharon Stone's lady parts and, to a much lesser extent, the rest of her. In her breakthrough role, Stone was like a contemporary Grace Kelly, only with less class and a greater willingness to expose her vagina in public. In the low-rent world of Basic Instinct scribe Joe Estzerhas, that's considered a fair trade-off.
The female role in Basic Instinct promised to make a star out of anyone shameless or brazen enough to accept it. To paraphrase George Dzunda's immortal line, Stone's vamp had "a magna cum laude pussy on her that done fried up [Michael Douglas'] brain". But don't just take his fat, sweaty character-actor word for it: Michael Douglas' renegade cop dubs her "the fuck of the century" (well duh, what would you expect from someone whose genitalia boasts such lofty academic honors?). Douglas should know: he's spent his career bedding formidable candidates for that title.
Basic Instinct transformed Stone into an instant sex symbol, but the ensuing years have illustrated that it was the role that captured the public's imagination, not the actress playing it. If Julia Roberts represents the girl next door, then Stone is more like the crazy-sexy ex-girlfriend you had to take out a restraining order against. Moviegoers were titillated, intrigued, and infatuated by Stone. But they didn't necessarily like her. Infatuation fades and while an air of eccentricity can be sexy in a young starlet at the height of her appeal, it starts to devolve into something much darker and sadder once popularity fades, the body starts to atrophy and desperation seeps in.
Stone is a consummate star in both the Warholian and Old Hollywood sense. She's a denizen of the red carpet, an expert wearer of clothes and striker of poses. What she lacks in talent she makes up for in presence. Stone's post-Basic Instinct career isn't wholly devoid of highs: she was terrific in Casino and affecting in Broken Flowers, though credit for those performances must be shared with Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch. Stone's primary talent lies in self-promotion, not acting. She's a movie star, not an actress.
As Stone flitted from bomb to bomb, a Basic Instinct sequel became inevitable, even if Stone remained the only major player from the first film onboard. Jan De Bont, John McTiernan, and most intriguingly, David Cronenberg all flirted with taking over directing duties before Michael Caton-Jones finally took on the assignment while Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Kurt Russell, Pierce Brosnan, Robert Downey Jr., and Viggo Mortenson were among the actors who either turned down the male lead or accepted it, then opted out. In a delicious bit of irony, Stone, who played a major role in casting, reportedly rejected Benjamin Bratt for not being a good enough actor. In her endless search for both a male co-star and a director, Stone was a little like the town tease who spurns suitor after suitor only to end up with a syphilis-riddled hobo passing through town. Actually given David Morrissey's Cinemax-worthy turn, it's more like ending up married to a syphilis-riddled hobo's frustrated apprentice.
Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction opens with Stone, her magna cum laude pussy, and her unnervingly unlined face racing a 110 mph while whacked out of her mind on club drugs and lovingly guiding the digits of her stoned passenger into the innermost warmth of her womanhood. (God it's hard to write about this movie without turning into Harold Robbins). What marvelous multi-tasking! Alas, such wanton disregard for traffic laws cannot go unpunished. It isn't long before Stone orgasms and plunges her shiny metallic phallus of a sports car into the dark, damp mysterious waters, killing her passenger in the process.
All the elements essential to Basic Instinct's success are in place from the opening sequence: sex, danger, transgression, drugs, kinky sex, conspicuous consumption, and flat-out soft-core porn. But it's trying far too hard to be sexy. Sexiness is like coolness: if you have to work hard at it the game is already lost.
In classic tardy sequel form, Basic Instinct 2 takes place in Great Britain, apparently the only country on Earth not yet tired of Sharon Stone. Having famously enraged and aroused the Stateside fuzz with the beaver shot seen round' the world, Stone now favors pasty English bobbies with her trademark sultry looks, filthy mouth, tossed-off quips of highly questionable taste, and flair for provocation. Not everyone is won over, however. "I want that cunt in jail!," howls David Thewlis in rage, a line sadly indicative of Henry Bean and Leona Barish's screenplay.
The naughtiness continues as Stone vamps her way through an interview with shrinkologist David Morrissey, a young man with Liam Neeson's bulky frame and the charisma of beige wallpaper. Stone stalks around Morrissey's office like a heavily Botoxed panther in the midst of a steep, permanent professional free fall. Morrissey diagnoses Stone as a thrill-seeker with a "risk addiction," which sounds like the cheesy subtitle for a lame erotic thriller because, well, it is the subtitle for a lame erotic thriller.
Stone's steamy tabloid fame soon sets tongues a wagging throughout Brittania. "So, how was the court case with the mystery writer? I hear she looks fabulous!," Charlotte Rampling asks Morrissey brightly in her introductory scene. Morrissey confirms that Stone is "also very intelligent" and later "brilliant really" in a passage I imagine Stone had written into the script. Actually I'm surprised she didn't threaten to storm off the set unless Morrissey added something along the lines of "And she's aging so gracefully! Why, she's more attractive than big female movie stars half her age!" Basic Instinct is nothing if not a boost to Stone's ego. Nary a scene goes by where someone doesn't express admiration for the female lead's looks or animal cunning, even if she ultimately looks like the Sharon Stone wax figure at Madame Tussaud's brought to life through black magic.
Morrissey somehow manages to resist campy come-ons like "That's the nightmare of shrinkdom, Doctor: too many answers, too many questions. Nobody gets laid." Eager to prove her wrong, Morrissey immediately sets about getting laid. But Stone's smirking evil has gotten under his skin. In one of the franchise's sillier tropes, flirting with Stone causes men to have aggressive, hair-pulling, moderately unconventional doggy-style sex instead of the eyes-closed, missionary, solely-for-the-purpose-of-procreation snoozefest Morrissey no doubt favors when not whipped into an erotic frenzy by hot-blooded sociopaths.
Now I don't want to suggest that Morrissey is not a dynamic performer, but I suspect that the producers could have replaced him halfway through shooting with a handsome mahogany coat rack and nobody would be able to tell the difference. When Stone straddles a chair during a session and asks Morrissey, "When you think about fucking me–and I know you do–how do you picture it, doctor? Do you want it straight up, you on top? Me on top? Do you want it from behind? On your knees? My face in the pillow? Do you want to beat me up? Just a little?," she sounds less like a femme fatale for an uninhibited age than a bratty adolescent acutely aware that there are certain naughty words guaranteed to send responsible adults into apoplectic rages and intent on abusing that knowledge.
Soon, granny-chaser Morrissey is stalking Stone through the streets of London, spying on her as she gets her freak on, having angry casual sex and punching strangers in bars. He's obsessed! Risk Addiction screenwriter Henry Bean specializes in bruisingly intense character studies about people divided against themselves: think Larry Fishburne's tormented undercover agent in Deep Cover, Richard Gere's charismatic corrupt cop in Internal Affairs, and most dramatically, Ryan Gosling's Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer. But Morrissey lacks the depth and chops to make his shrink-gone-loco convincing or affecting. Paul Verhoeven's gorgeously empty original was like a trashy paperback reprinted as a leather-bound limited edition with gilded pages: the upscale classiness of the presentation simultaneously elevated and obscured the low-rent sleaziness of the contents. Risk Addiction, by comparison, is like a tacky paperback with a crude black velvet painting of a half-naked woman standing over a bloody corpse on the cover: the Cinemax-ready exterior matches the equally disreputable interior.
In the years between Basic Instinct and its sequel, Stone went from being a sexy woman who's a little crazy to a crazy woman who's a little sexy. In that same time, the public's attitude towards her devolved from panting fascination to train wreck morbid fascination. Of course, Stone was in her physical prime when she made Basic Instinct and over 100-years-old when its sequel flopped. The culture underwent a similarly dramatic transformation. These days, any 12-year-old with access to the internet can readily access acts of perversion that make the debauchery on display here look about as decadent as a barn raising in Amish country by comparison. Yet Basic Instinct 2 struts and frets its hour upon the stage as if drug-fueled casual sex of the mildly kinky variety still represents something hopelessly taboo.
With Basic Instinct 2, Sharon Stone gave the world exactly what she thought it wanted–Boobies! Filthy talk! Gratuitous nudity! Sexual transgression up the wazoo! Catherine Trammell unrated and uncut!–only to find out that moviegoers don't really want it anymore, and even if they did they'd probably opt for a younger, sleeker model with less baggage. Stone played her last remaining trump card here, but lost out all the same. Oh well, maybe that long-gestating Sliver sequel will be Stone's ticket back onto the A-list.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Failure