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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Fatal Instinct (Blu-ray)
Fatal Instinct (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // PG-13 // September 22, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jesse Skeen | posted October 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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One of my favorite "funny customer" moments from my movie theater days was when Basic Instinct was playing and some customers would ask for tickets to "Fatal Instinct". About a year later, those customers got the movie they asked for although it didn't play at the theater I worked at.

Released a few months after the moderately successful spoof Loaded Weapon I but before the third Naked Gun installment and directed by comedy legend Carl Reiner, Fatal Instinct spoofs the "erotic thrillers" that were popular at the time as well as older film noirs. Armand Assante plays Ned Ravine (a jab at Body Heat's Ned Racine) who "goes both ways"- he's both a cop (detective to be exact) and a lawyer. He's married to Lana (Kate Nelligan) who he loves very much, unaware that she's having an affair with auto mechanic Frank Kelbo (Christopher McDonald) and plotting with him to kill Ned. (The closest he gets to the truth is when he tells Frank "You're screwing my wife!" because he's taking such a long time to fix her car.) Lola Cain (Sean Young), the movie's "femme fatale" walks into Ned's office seeking help but it's clear that she's just out to seduce him. Meanwhile Ned's secretary Laura (Sherilyn Fenn) hides her attraction to Ned while trying to hide from her psychotic ex-husband (Michael Cumpsty) who's out to get her for not keeping his towels in order, in a nod to Sleeping With the Enemy).

Although critics and audiences at the time were rather indifferent upon Fatal Instinct's release, I thought it was rather hilarious when I rented it later. It's played out similar to the Naked Gun series with just a bit fewer laughs per minute than those were able to deliver- but then again what else ever has? But like those movies, what makes it work is that the cast plays every ridiculous moment of it completely straight. Director Reiner and writer David O'Malley attack every movie cliché they can- the movie opens with a sultry saxophone music score but we quickly see that's because Clarence Clemons (from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band) is playing his saxophone as he follows the characters around everywhere! Ned narrates much of the movie in first-person in the style of countless other thrillers, and gets so caught up in it that he doesn't see a bus headed right for him. There's also a peculiar abundance of ceiling fans and window blinds. Another subplot lampoons Cape Fear as Max Shady (James Remar), released from a long prison sentence that Ned's defense failed to keep him out of, hunts him down for violent revenge. This is definitely one of those movies where you'll keep thinking to remember what's being parodied, and unlike the mind-numbingly awful Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer satires of the past decade, they won't be pointed out to you.

The one thing that immediately made me doubt Fatal Instinct upon its release was that despite the R-rated movies filled with sex and violence it parodied, this movie was rated PG-13. This was at a time when R-rated comedies were a bit rare, and both the "gross-out humor" that became in vogue in the late 90s and even the dirty humor of many 80s comedies was mostly frowned upon. Certainly a no-holds-barred R-rated approach could have at least been a goldmine of tasteless and offensive humor, but the movie we get instead plays it quite safely with very little foul language at all and mostly double-entendres. There is one comedic sex scene which is rather funny but much tamer than what could have been. The movie still works as it is altogether quite well within the confines of the rating, and most of its laughs feel more deserved than the obvious attempts to be as shocking as possible which came in later movies.

Fatal Instinct was issued by MGM as a rather nice-looking letterboxed laserdisc after its theatrical run, but when it later made it onto DVD only a 4x3 transfer was used- although oddly a new director and writer commentary track was included with that. Olive Films has now brought it onto Blu-Ray and standard DVD with a proper 16x9 widescreen transfer but there is a caveat: the two copyrighted songs used in the movie have been replaced. One scene with Ned and Lola relaxing in the tub to Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" has the song replaced with some generic rock music, and Ned's not recognizing the song in the scene just adds to the confusion and kills whatever joke was there. Another scene where the two of them go out shopping is set to Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" but that has been replaced with an upbeat R&B song- "Your Sweet Thing" by Jesse Morgan which seems to have been recorded in 2005, 8 years after this movie was released! "Brown Eyed Girl" also closes the last scene of the movie and plays through the end credits, but there it is replaced with more of the movie's original score by Richard Gibbs. Besides these two songs having been used many times in other movies without any known music rights issues, an odd thing about this are that the original song credits are left in at the end of the movie, with NO credit given to the newer Jesse Morgan track. Another is that on the commentary track (which I'll get into shortly), the original music IS heard in the background of that! There is no indication of this anywhere on the packaging. (I don't have any previous edition to verify whether the songs were left untouched before, but it seems that they likely were given that they're on the commentary audio.)

Picture:

The HD transfer on this Blu-Ray disc is very nice, with no noticeable banding or compression artifacts to spoil many of the dark scenes. Colors seem to be intentionally drab (in the commentary track, Carl Reiner mentions that he wanted the atmosphere to be similar to a black and white movie but was basically obligated to shoot it in color.) Detail is strong enough to see a string in one gag that wasn't meant to show up.

Sound:

The two-channel matrixed sound mix is encoded in DTS HD Master Audio (with the disc authored to output as PCM, avoiding surround decoding problems with 2-channel DTS tracks on some receivers, provided your player has full audio decoding on-board.) The audio isn't spectacular but serves the material, with most sound kept to the front and stereo overall used mostly for the music score.

Extras:

The commentary track with director Carl Reiner and writer David O'Malley, done for the DVD release, is included here and is a worthwhile listen. Reiner jokes that the movie's title was the "only mistake" made, as he had wanted to title it "Triple Indemnity" but the studio found a problem with it. They point out many of the movies referenced and what they were going for, although they don't say how the film itself first came about nor anything about the relative PG-13 tameness of it all. They address a point which I've heard before on other commentaries, which is that they tried to cast as many "serious" (rather than comedic) actors as possible, as their ability to play everything straightforward made it all the more funny.

A good 22 minutes of deleted scenes are also included (sourced from standard-def video but upscaled to 1080p) and also include a commentary track from Reiner and O'Malley, although through much of it they don't have a lot to say. There are a few amusing bits and a scene parodying Silence of the Lambs, as well as an appearance from Dudley Moore in drag playing a defendant's mother in a courtroom scene. Usually the reason for cutting material from comedies is to keep the running time short, and some of these do drag a bit, but I would still like to see someone not be afraid to make a comedy with a long running time provided all of the jokes did work and not get tiresome. The disc also features the theatrical trailer, which spoils a twist later in the movie, in HD with mono sound.

Final Thoughts:

I've always considered Fatal Instinct an overlooked movie and well worth seeing at least once for fans of parodies- and it does have enough subtle gags that make repeated viewings worthwhile also. The quality of the Blu-Ray disc is great, but the music replacement and lack of any indicators for it is a huge let-down. While I don't know all of the behind-the-scenes procedures of licensing that determines whether a movie gets altered for home release or not (I've heard some of the costs have been unreasonably expensive), I generally avoid releases where this happens and would have been fine waiting a while longer for any complications to be settled and the movie released intact, especially if it had been before.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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