Switching the setting from San Francisco to London and making the male love interest a shrink instead of a cop, Michael Caton-Jones’ take on the familiar formula is surprisingly competent and heavy on irony. It is probably the hit-and-miss-director's best (and certainly most watchable) film since Scandal (1989). Where the original film was a pumped up, post 80s thriller of often OTT proportions, directed by a Dutch filmmaker having the time of his life in Hollywood, this is a more modest, stripped down effort – more psychological drama than thriller really. Yet for all its re-direction of the series and determined ambiguity regarding the questions posed by the first film, it is still very true to its source, updating and re-imagining the ideas and the storyline of its predecessor.
The main thrust of the plot hinges, of course, on Catherine, the one character from the first film who re-appears here. We deduce that after her San Francisco years (some of which were spent with the Michael Douglas character from Basic Instinct) she moved to London and continued to engage in her sex, drugs and people on the edge lifestyle, which once again lands her at the centre of a murder case in which she may or may not be guilty. As before, its not long before more people start dying, and the guy she’s involved with (then a cop, now a psychologist) can’t decide whether she’s good or bad, even though he’s supposed to be professionally clear headed about her.
There are many echoes of the first film – the characters and their professions, the general ideas that the story spins on, the snatches of Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score – but Catherine is older now, perhaps more fragile, and certainly more disturbed than ever. Basic Instinct 2 does a great job of getting under her skin and fleshing out her character, showing us the complexity that rages beneath the icy exterior and the desperate measures that she sometimes resorts to, making it all the more difficult to decide whether she’s guilty or not.
Its not a perfect movie in the way the first Basic Instinct was – it lacks Verhoevan’s indisputable talent for propelling a story forwards at lightning speed and clearly presenting all the necessary elements that keep the mystery intriguing. Caton-Jones’ stumbles in pace from time to time, and occasionally the script gets so bogged down in its own mystery that it all becomes a little bit too complex. It also suffers from severe cuts made during post-production, the worst casualty of which were the original sex scenes, which at times makes the film feel a little bit tepid, certainly by comparison to its older brother. This being a European co production, there are the inevitable and embarrassing cameos by the likes of Charlotte Rampling and Heathcote Williams, neither of whom adds much to the film or the storyline.
That aside though, this is a noble and enjoyable follow-up to one of the defining films of the 1990s, re-designed for the 21st century without losing to much of its necessary spirit. One wonders what a third film could bring …