Paul Verhoeven is no stranger to controversy, with Robocop labelled ultra-violent and Showgirls ultra-sleazy. Basic Instinct manages to combine the best of both worlds, with the saving grace of a tense plot and great acting.

Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is a hard-bitten detective with a past. He killed a couple of tourists once while high on coke and the memory lingers on, as does his relationship with his police shrink (Jeanne Tripplehorn). When a rock star is murdered in the throes of orgasm with an ice-pick, by an unknown partner - an attention-grabbing opening sequence if ever there was one - Curran is called in to investigate. His hard exterior proves fragile when he meets the prime suspect, author Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone on fantastic form as the femme fatale) and finds himself bewitched by her charms, which she doesn't hide under a bushel or, indeed, underwear.

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People in Catherine's life have a nasty habit of giving up breathing. To make matters worse, the mode of their passing tends to be violent and mirrored in her novels - her latest is about a cop who "falls for the wrong girl". Is Catherine a ruthless psychotic killer, or merely a bad girl who taints everything she touches? Curran's character is equally complex, seemingly contrite about his past in one scene and displaying a worrying propensity for sexual violence in the next.

Much was made at the time of the film's release about the fact that Catherine is bisexual, openly flaunting her relationship with Roxy (a very sultry Leilani Sarelle) at the same time as she pursues Nick in the name of book research. The US gay community claimed Verhoeven's film reinforced stereotypes, while he said her bisexuality was not an issue, an argument which proves compelling as you watch the film. Little, if any, mention is made of the fact and it really doesn't bother anyone, except Roxy, who begins to have murderous thoughts herself.

The word "Hitchcockian" is bandied about so much these days that it has almost ceased to carry any weight, but Verhoeven is definitely attempting to emulate The Master here, and is frequently successful. Many of the aerial shots of San Francisco are resonant of his work, and some of Stone's costumes were based on those of Kim Novak in Vertigo. But Hitch never had it so seedy. Verhoeven drags us into the boudoir at every possible opportunity, and while the issue of whether Ms Stone really shows her all when she crosses her legs in the infamous interrogation scene is likely to be cleared up by the presence of perfect freeze-frame, it is the practical date-rape of Tripplehorn which is more likely to offend.

Basic Instinct goes beyond gritty into grime, without being a better movie for it. While some of the sexual content is necessary, much is not and comes across as voyeuristic pap, perfect for teenage boys of any age. The snappy dialogue and high-calibre acting, both by the central characters and a strong supporting cast, featuring the ever-watchable George Dzundza as Gus, Curran's more stable sidekick, keeps the film from tipping over the brink into Showgirls territory.

Ultimately, it is an engaging and interesting thriller which bucks against the easy storylines so often trotted out by Hollywood and has lost little of its impact in the 10 years since it was made.

Reviewed on: 12 May 2002
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A cop has a dangerous liaison with a suspected murderess.
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Director: Paul Verhoeven

Writer: Joe Eszterhas

Starring: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle, Dorothy Malone

Year: 1992

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA

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