A former rock star, now pillar of the community, is found dead in his bedroom, having been viciously killed with an ice pick during sex. Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is on the case, and immediately the signs point to millionairess and bestselling author Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) as a suspect. Nick grows steadily more obsessed with her as the case grows more labyrinthine, and his lust for her obscures his reasoning - is he being set up by Catherine, or is someone else the killer?
The film that launched a thousand straight-to-video erotic thrillers, Basic Instinct famously earned its writer Joe Eszterhas a multi-million dollar paycheck. It was a sizeable hit, but not many people were taken in by its would-be Hitchcockian posturing, and the steamy sex scenes ended up being the main selling point. It was controversial amongst the gay community when it depicted lesbians as having homicidal tendencies, but director Paul Verhoeven seemed more interested in crafting a sleek, glossy and vivid experience than delving into the sexual politics of Eszterhas' script.
That script sets out its point of view by making all the attractive women bisexual, and giving them shady pasts, all the better for setting up those plot twists. The men are putty in the devious women's hands. Catherine is so blatantly depicted as the murderer it becomes laughable - why wasn't she thrown into custody immediately? All that happens is the police invite her down to the station for questioning, where she reduces the sweaty, middle aged cops to jelly by her self-assurance and the unsubtle way of revealing to them her lack of underwear.
Luckily, no matter how seriously Eszterhas and Douglas take themselves, Verhoeven and Stone show a sense of humour about the whole implausible affair. Douglas delivers absurd lines like "I think she's the fuck of the century" as if he means it and truly believes he has achieved the ultimate in seducing the biggest tease in the world, yet Stone leaves you in no doubt as to who is pulling the strings. Even in her crying scene you're dubious about her sincerity, despite the fact that the final twist would have you accept that Nick has tamed Catherine by giving her orgasms on demand. Silly, aggressive, extreme, but stylish with a great bad girl performance from Stone, Basic Instinct manages to be better than its countless imitators. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
Verhoeven's sharp sense of humour tempers his over-the-top style, but he frequently sails too close to being ridiculous for many to take him seriously. The war drama Black Book, filmed in his native Holland, raised his standing once more, and his black comedy thriller Elle won great acclaim for star Isabelle Huppert.