It's been 14 years since the release of 1992's "Basic Instinct," recalling the phrase "better late than never." A better summation of "Instinct 2" would be, "better now while Sharon Stone's career is ice cold." Nevertheless, as easy as it would be to dismiss the film as a triumph against impossible quality odds, the truth is, it's pretty good.
With almost everyone but Stone fresh to the "Instinct" franchise, there's a concentrated effort to craft a motion picture that mirrors the original film, but features its own sights and smells. Replacing the smoky golds of San Francisco are the cold, black streets of London, which parallel the new film's desire to push away from attraction, where "Instinct" ran right to trouble. "Instinct 2" is an outstandingly photographed picture (by Gyula Pados, "Kontroll"), matching the first film's sheen and architectural allure, though the film cannot resist some fun: Glass's office is located in the most indelicately phallic building in the world.
Director Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy," "This Boy's Life") has the thorny job of following up Paul Verhoeven, who never met an operatic sequence of rough sex and ultra-violence that he didn't like. Caton-Jones's approach is decidedly more laid back, structuring "Instinct 2" more as a psychological thriller than a raunch-a-thon. It works in the film's favor, since Stone's perfume has long worn off and the thrills of kinky sex (ooooh, lesbians!) that seemed so powerful in 1992 could pass for a PG-13 today. With a sharp screenplay by Henry Bean & Leora Barish, Catherine Tramell almost feels like an afterthought, with the majority of the focus placed on Glass's downward spiral into recklessness. The sexpot certainly kicks off the proceedings, but Glass keeps the audience engaged as he slowly succumbs to the seduction of Tramell, delivered with a terrific performance by David Morrissey, who convincingly plays convinced the entire film.
To help class up the picture, Caton-Jones has hired some top-tier English talent, such as Charlotte Rampling (as Glass's colleague) and David Thewlis (as a possibly dirty cop), to help navigate this tricky screenplay. The cast is ready to sink into the dark waters of Tramell's world, and they make even the most iffy of script turns feel acceptable, if not entirely believable. Most importantly, the cast makes Stone look good, which is something she's most surely not in this sequel.
Having lost her sex kitten purr long ago in her determination to be taken as a dramatic actress, the sprint back to the erotic thriller genre is a bumpy reentry for Stone. She's infuriatingly self-conscious here, trying to slip back into the heels that made her a worldwide star, but forgetting how to walk in them. Stone looks like a million bucks (again, much credit goes to Pados), but her lusty swagger has vanished, making Tramell an anemic desperate housewife without a suburbia to run home to. There's chemistry between Stone and Morrissey, but the film lacks the lurid detail that made Stone's pairing with Michael Douglas both hilarious and irresistible. "Instinct 2" is an oddly sexless film, leaving most of the heavy breathing to Stone's see-through shirts and smoking fixation. With surprising bull-in-a-china-shop grace to her line delivery, Stone's performance is shockingly the weakest link of the film.
The screenwriters give the characters plenty of backstory and plot to play with, which leaves "Instinct 2" more complicated than it had any right to be. The back and forth questioning of truth does tend to get a little stale as the film lumbers to a finish, but the effort is there to give the faithful another dose of erotic-tinged mystery, and the curious a little more narrative meat. "Basic Instinct 2" isn't quite the spurting geyser of sexual excess that the original was, but it has a sense of reservation and a rather graceful desire for worth (where nobody is expecting it) that makes it an acceptable distraction.