Sharon Stone and Catherine Tramell, her Basic Instinct character, have many things in common, and among the first shared trait that's detectable in Basic Instinct 2 is their love for looking directly into the camera. The movie starts with a fingerbang, as Catherine and some indisposed footballer zigzag the streets of London going 110 mph (it's a fast-woman, fast-car scene manic enough to give any of Tura Santana's behind-the-wheel hysterics in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! a run for their money). Soon, Catherine's car is flying off the road, into a large body of water (the River Thames?) and she's escaping for the surface. Her finger dealer is not, of course, and his death provides the first chance for us to have Catherine where we really want her: in the police station for questioning. At some point soon after, we're outside of the interrogation room, looking at a closed-circuit monitor. Staring right back, as though she's taken by the sheer novelty of being able to penetrate a lens, is Catherine. She, or maybe just Stone, or probably both of them united, drill holes in the fourth wall with their eyes and commit a major act of foreshadowing: they wink.
Basic Instinct 2 isn't a great movie. It isn't even a good movie, but it also isn't as clueless as most of the predictably savage reviews would have you believe. It's a movie that always seems to have something to say about itself. Is it dirt on the projector, or is it itself winking at us? A newspaper headline for a story reporting Catherine's off-roading, screams, "FATALE CRASH," which could have easily been he header for any of those scathing reviews. At a point much later in the film, Catherine's analyst Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey) scours an article to dig up dirt on possible bad cop Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) and his eyes fall on two different paragraphs that begin, "A perfectly good movie script could be written..." in reference to whatever misadventures of Washburn it's detailing (the quote is either a tribute to Joe Eszterhas' good-cop-bad-cop dynamic of Michael Douglas' Nick "Shooter" Curran character of the first Basic Instinct, or a lament that the script we're watching play out isn't centered on the events of the fictitious article and therefore it isn't "perfectly good"). And Catherine always has great wisdom to share. Most telling: "Too many questions, too many answers, no one gets laid."
Amen, sister. To its greatest detriment, Basic Instinct 2 is too interested in being talky and not nearly eager enough to be sleazy. But even that could be part of the plan. See, the greatest source of intrigue that Basic Instinct 2 provides isn't so much whodunit as whydoit. I repeat this a lot, but it's because I truly believe it: the most effective camp doesn't give the viewer easy answers. It refuses (consciously?) to designate between the intentional and accidental, creating something of a challenge or a game. Is Basic Instinct 2 merely a series of (however self-aware) errors, or is it cleverly structured? While few would argue that being boring is an asset, the movie seems to be laid out to compliment Stone as much as possible: everything is dull and drab when she's away (to the point where I'm being merciful by not summarizing the plot), making us appreciate her presence that much more. It's the structural equivalent of surrounding yourself with less attractive people to make yourself seem hot. Or, for a more specific example, playing the love interest of someone as out of your league and decidedly not hot as David Morrissey.
Not that Stone needs the help. She's been compared to Mae West in a few reviews, and some of her off-handed snarls resemble those of West's later years ("You look a little divorced," for one). More than West, Stone reminds me of Edy Williams in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: predatory and slightly mannish, but mostly having a ball, the way starlets do because they're just glad to be onscreen. Maybe Stone's happy to be playing God once again (because, depending on one side presented in both Basic Instincts' open-ended stories, events in Tramell's life play out like dominoes she's stacked -- she just says when). Maybe she's giddy off the $14 million she received to participate. Maybe it's drugs. But no matter what, Stone's possessed enthusiasm is infectious. I doubt I'll see a performance all year that I loved more intensely than this one. I doubt I'll laugh harder at the genius in her matter-of-fact delivery of the line, "What if I told you that I masturbate when I think about you?" Much has been made of Stone's age, as though people can't believe that someone in their late 40s should be getting laid (and enjoying it!). What I found most unbelievable was that someone so weird, down to the new(ish?) and totally unnecessary fake tits, is getting laid.
You never know, really, when Catherine Tramell is truthful, just as you never know when Sharon Stone the real, live is. Early on, Tramell is described as not mentally impaired, "at least, not by any legal definition." How apt, considering Stone's recent stream of bizarre public behavior. She recently praised Basic Instinct 2's script by calling it "beautiful and interesting" (aw, look guys: pretty, pretty garbage!). Or what about that very public outing to the Western Wall? Or whatever the fuck she meant when she revealed, "Young people talk to me about what to do if they're being pressed for sex. I tell them (what I believe): oral sex is a hundred times safer than vaginal or anal sex. If you're in a situation where you cannot get out of sex, offer a blow job. I'm not embarrassed to tell them." Of course she isn't. The woman's life has become that very special form of camp that I describe above. Everyday is April Fool's Day in Sharonland. If she's winking at you, it probably has nothing to do with flirting anymore.
Basic Instinct 2, fueled by its double-talking star playing a double-talking character, could be a massive put-on, or just a failed attempt at stimulation, a cinematic hand-job gone awry. Either way, Stone comes off unscathed -- you get the feeling that she's laughing, too, and so much of the fun in that is trying to figure out exactly why. I don't want to write off the movie's chances at gaining a devoted cult, because these things take time (and the immediate accessibility that home watching affords) to gestate. A lot of reviews revealed a sense of being let down by the movie, something like, "I wanted it to be so bad it was good, but it's just so bad!" It's true that lovers of inadvertent trainwrecks and camp in general spend a lot of time scavenging (like, say, Prince and horror fans). Basic Instinct 2 probably isn't fast-paced enough or packed with gags to go on to become the next Showgirls, but we'll see -- in a few years' time, I can imagine relatively widespread, giggling reverence for Stone's performance, if nothing else. Besides, supposedly 15 steamy minutes were cut from the U.S. version, which means that we'll be getting more than just the power to rewind to listen to that awesome line again when BI2 comes out on video (in a few weeks, no doubt). Maybe we haven't yet seen all that Catherine Tramell has to show us. Here's hoping, at least.