Absurdly overheated and unforgivably dull, ''Basic Instinct 2" is the accidental comedy sensation of the year to date, and while some of the people involved seem to be in on the joke, director Michael Caton-Jones isn't one of them. The sequel to the 1992 thriller is 14 years late and many dollars short of plausibility, and the only risk associated with it is Sharon Stone's.
In once more taking up the role of Catherine Tramell, the amoral sex-freak underwear-spurning possible-serial-killer novelist that made the actress a household name back in the early '90s, Stone is betting that a 48-year-old woman can be as hot and dangerous as the 20-somethings the film industry is addicted to. Bully for her -- in theory. In practice, Stone appears to have had so much work done that her face resembles a tautly made bed, and her unchanging expression of smoldering arrogance seems less an acting decision and more the result of neurotoxins. The body may be willing but the flesh has been immobilized.
All right, that's cruel, but ''Basic Instinct 2" is so dramatically slack that there's little to do but ponder the wonders of up-market plastic surgery. The film does open with a scene that promises deranged entertainment: Catherine tears through the deserted streets of late-night London in a
The young man, a famous soccer star, drowns, and the court assigns Catherine a psychiatrist to judge her sanity. This is Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey), handsome and tightly wound and terribly uninteresting. Michael Douglas's Detective Nick Curran from ''Basic Instinct" would have wiped his shoes with him. Over the course of the movie, Catherine takes the starch out of Glass's upper lip and reduces him to a puddle of proper British lust, but, like David Ortiz facing a softball pitcher, these two just aren't in the same league.
Catherine seems to have much more fun getting to know everyone in the doctor's orbit and lurking suspiciously nearby when they turn up dead. Potential victims include Glass's ex-wife (Indira Varma), her current boyfriend, a nosy tabloid reporter (Hugh Dancy), and Glass's colleague (Charlotte Rampling, whose numb expression suggests she didn't read the script until she got to the set).
Dogging the hero's steps is Detective Roy Washburn, and the gifted David Thewlis bats this role around with the high-spirited resignation of a man who knows exactly what he has stepped in. Stone also has as much fun as she can under the circumstances; the scene where she straddles a chair in Glass's office and barks out a demand to know what arouses him is close to camp heaven. Say what you will about the first ''Basic Instinct," but in the hands of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and the great, subversive Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, it didn't bother with such piddling issues as restraint.
Alas, ''Basic Instinct 2" is all too British, and when it tries to get down and dirty, it just seizes up. At one point, Glass watches through a skylight as Catherine takes part in an orgy, and that's a nice metaphor for the movie as a whole -- it has no idea how to use vulgarity to its advantage. Caton-Jones seems more turned on by architecture (there are a lot of shots of the phallic Swiss Re building in London where Glass works; it's also known as ''the Gherkin," nudge-nudge) and he has his hands full trying to make head or tails of the plot.
It's a losing battle. ''Basic Instinct 2" makes no sense whatsoever, especially after the Big Twist toward the end. Neither did the original, but that somehow added to its lunatic charms. This time you just hoot in derision and walk out feeling burned. Back in 2001, Stone sued the producers for breach of contract; in essence, she was trying to ensure this movie got made. A smarter actress would have sued to get out.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.