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EW review: 'Basic Instinct 2,' good fun 0

Also: Entertaining 'Ice Age,' funny-creepy 'Slither'

By Owen Gleiberman
Entertainment Weekly

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Sharon Stone and David Morrissey star in "Basic Instinct 2."

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(Entertainment Weekly) -- "Basic Instinct 2" opens, as it should, with a bang -- or about as close as you can get to one in a car that's going 100 miles per hour.

Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) and her latest conquest -- we'll learn, soon after he's dead, that he's a soccer star -- are speeding along in the glistening steel-gray London night. Catherine, who's at the wheel, which is just the way she likes it, shoves her fingers into the guy's mouth, and then, as she grabs his fingers and places them somewhere hotter, she laughs and writhes, then moans, then crashes -- literally, driving off the road and plunging into the Thames.

A ludicrous moment? Yes, but knowingly so, and you've got to say this much for it: Everyone involved looks as if they're having a good time (at least, until they start drowning).

That may be the last moment of unbridled horny joy in "Basic Instinct 2."

Theoretically, it was a smart move to set this sequel in England, where Catherine, the best-selling pulp novelist of death-tinged erotic danger, has moved. London, choked with cash, is now swinging in a way that it hasn't since the late '60s, and even Woody Allen, in "Match Point," found the inspiration to make a sexy femme-fatale thriller there.

But "Basic Instinct 2," directed by Michael Caton-Jones ("Scandal," "Doc Hollywood") from a script by Leora Barish and Henry Bean, doesn't unfold in a dirty urban pleasure zone; it's more like the London of drizzly old-school British repression. The sky is overcast, the S& M clubs are dank peeling lairs, and the investigator Catherine has set her sights on is a dour criminal psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Glass, played by a refined, tall, rosebud-lipped actor named David Morrissey, who looks like the rock star Morrissey -- that is, if Morrissey had become the vice president of a bank.

Glass is called on to evaluate Catherine in the wake of her car accident, which probably wasn't an accident, and he then becomes her therapist, diagnosing her with ''risk addiction.'' Putting Catherine on the couch is an amusing idea, but it also diminishes her: a sex goddess reduced to a pathology.

As she does her number, sprawling around Glass' ridiculously oversize designer penthouse office in strappy stilettos and zinging him with little verbal daggers, he's lured in a way that's so abstract we're not quite sure if he wants to go to bed with her or write a thesis about her.

Sharon Stone, with lacquered skin and breasts like missiles, her hair styled in a Xaviera Hollander platinum shag, looks coarser now, like one of those vamps on the cover of a hardcore DVD, but she hasn't lost her ability to turn sexual resentment into fiercely insinuating play.

In the original "Basic Instinct," a fleshpot "Vertigo" whose randy spirit anticipated the mainstreaming of porn, Stone seemed to channel Madonna, doing blond contempt with a smile, and the shrewdness of her acting was that she took all that bad Joe Eszterhas dialogue and winked at its corny purplish ''heat.'' What counted wasn't the words but the subtext Stone brought to them, her persistent toying glimmer of You know you want to f--- me. Everything else was just talk.

In the 14 years since, Stone has kept on trying to prove she's a real actress, damn it, but Catherine Tramell remains her one indelible character.

Famously frustrated at Hollywood's sex-symbol ghetto, Stone, as she did before, pours that resentment right into her role, drawing on the rage of a thousand bimbo casting sessions, that rage now extending, paradoxically, to the moment that sealed her stardom (the simultaneous bravura/humiliation of the interrogation scene in which she flashed the audience). In "Basic Instinct 2," she successfully revives her performance as Catherine, the vamp who screws and mocks at the same time, who's cold even when she's in heat, who seduces men by turning their desire against them.

Catherine has become, if anything, an even more devious liar than before, to the point that her "is it my life or just my novel?" web-spinning is now a greater obsession for her than sex. That's a problem.

"Basic Instinct 2" isn't bad, exactly, but it lacks the entertaining vulgarity of the first film; it's "Basic Instinct" redone with more ''class'' and less thrust. (Catherine and her shrink indulge in erotic asphyxiation, which doesn't exactly make you want to try it at home.)

As Glass, echoing the original film, tries to clear up a scandal from his past, Charlotte Rampling, as his analyst mentor, and David Thewlis, as a cop who may or may not be a scoundrel, add color, but what "Basic Instinct 2" lacks, apart from a line quite as laughable as the original's ''You're dealing with a devious, diabolical mind,'' is a sexual tension brazen enough to justify the mounting preposterousness of the twists.

It's a treat to see Stone rev her evil-vixen engine again, but apart from that "Basic Instinct 2" mostly takes the fun out of kink.

EW Grade: B-

'Ice Age: The Meltdown'

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

Will Ellie, the talking animated woolly mammoth in "Ice Age: The Meltdown," do for Queen Latifah what Dory, the talking animated blue fish in "Finding Nemo," did for Ellen DeGeneres? It could happen.

In providing the voice of a playful, full-figured gal with luscious eyelashes (maybe it's Maybelline?) and curvaceous tusks who, long story short, happens to think she's a possum, the Queen gracefully transfers her distinctive charms to one of the new principal characters who join the herd for this jaunty sequel to the popular 2002 CG family comedy. And her outgoing feminine touch sharpens the game of the boys around her -- as well as the wits of the "Ice Age" writers.

Ellie's arrival on the Pleistocene scene, along with her two rambunctious real-possum ''brothers'' Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), coincides with an emergency migration under way for the gloomy, self-aware woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), the snobby saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), and the sloth with self-esteem problems, Sid (John Leguizamo): The Ice Age is ending, the glaciers are melting, and death by drowning is a distinct possibility. (Enlightened statement about global warming? Nah, this perky escapade says life is good once you get past a little water.)

Anyhow, just as in Michael Bay's "Armageddon," what's a cataclysmic world event compared with personal growth? Until he meets Ellie, Manny mopes because he thinks he's the last of his species (and even after his pals assure him that ''she completes you!'' Manny's a pessimist). Sid, looking for respect, gets more than he bargains for in some marvelous mayhem with a species of mini-sloths. Diego is forced to admit weakness.

And the tenacious prehistoric squirrel-rat thing called Scrat who ran away with the first picture is back to steal the second, still obsessed with his nuts.

There will be time after Manny and Ellie rub fur to worry about the fragile planet. "Ice Age: The Meltdown" blithely looks on the bright side of life, amassing a screen full of vultures to sing and dance ''Food Glorious Food'' and daring us not to get happy.

EW Grade: B+

'Slither'

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

"Slither" lays on the monsters and zombies and ooze, but the very last reaction writer-director James Gunn is going for is a simple ''Oh, my!''

He'll take ''Eek,'' he'll accept ''Ick,'' he'd love ''Ha-ha-ha-ha'' -- the more visceral the response the better for the Troma alumnus who wrote 2004's sparkling, ''reimagined'' "Dawn of the Dead."

And if he can't get a rise out of an audience weaned on John Carpenter movies, he'll just throw more putrefying effects on the screen.

So sue me, sometimes after a day of enjoying Belgian film-festival prizewinners, I like to relax with copious servings of horror-flick slime and a good visual joke involving squids, girls in bathtubs, and overhead cameras.

Here, Gunn lovingly hacks up the whole horror-comedy genre with the giddily disgusting tale of Wheelsy, a Southern town infested by alien slugs. The mother sucker from outer space enters the neighborhood through the host body of a local lout superfluously named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker from "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" -- killer casting). Her babies in turn transform their human prey into zombies. The zombies go gaga in the streets.

And pretty soon the only uninfected folks are chief of police Bill Pardy ("Serenity's" Nathan Fillion), the town's dumdum mayor ("Payback's" Gregg Henry), an all-purpose neighbor teen (Tania Saulnier, in the bathtub), and Grant's pretty wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks from "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," hilarious as a classic Hitchcock blonde), for whom Pardy has long carried a torch.

There are times (and plenty of them) when "Slither" slops over from smart, affectionate homage into unmodulated frat goofiness as Gunn cannibalizes so many horror plots with such high spirits. Well, what do you expect from a comedy that hollers ''Goo riddance!''?

EW Grade: B+

'ATL'

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

The young African-American gladiators in "ATL" flash the kind of fierce dental bling Lil' Kim might dream about in the slammer. But the combat in this gentle ode to good pals and roller-skating nights in the bad hood is about as ferocious as a "Saturday Night Fever" dance-off, or as dangerous as a corporate-tie-in soundtrack album.

Mostly, Rashad (rapper Tip ''T.I.'' Harris) and his buddies just wanna get their skates on, hit the pinwheel-colored '80s-style rink called Cascade, and blow off everyday agita with spectacular choreographed team routines.

The more rink time, the better: As directed by hip-hop music-video king Chris Robinson from a story by "Antwone Fisher's" Antwone Fisher, the skate scenes are a blast. It's when "ATL" (that's home talk for Atlanta) attempts to be all genres to all audiences that the movie stumbles.

While Rashad works out class differences with a ghetto-fab girlfriend who calls herself ''New-New'' (newcomer Lauren London, playing a character based on TLC's T-Boz) only when she sneaks out of her family's mansion, "ATL" also throws in a Horatio Alger subplot and an antidrug fable featuring OutKast's Big Boi as the local dealer big boi. Really, all we wanna do is skate, skate, skate.

EW Grade: B-

'The Devil and Daniel Johnston'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

"The Devil and Daniel Johnston" is a fascinating and lovingly crafted musical documentary that nevertheless misunderstands its own subject.

In the 1980s, Daniel Johnston was a creative young geek with a history of mental problems (he was diagnosed as manic-depressive) who found a cult niche with his warbly, faux-childlike, sub-Jonathan Richman ditties. He gave out homemade cassettes, often rerecording an entire tape for each potential fan -- not because he wanted to, but because he didn't know how to dub.

His moonstruck lyrics, mingled with his lack of technique and aura of damaged innocence, helped make him a mascot for the ''outsider'' validity of indie rock, but "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" presents this haunted footnote as if he were a lost-boy genius on a par with Brian Wilson or the Beatles. That may, of course, be what his fans think, but the bad joke of the movie is that we see Johnston turn himself into a Gen-X icon by merging his open-mike-night novelty act with an unadulterated lust for fame.

He's the Chauncey Gardiner of indie rock -- a mirror of his audience's I-can-be-a-star-too narcissism -- and the movie's infuriating intrigue is that it all but begs us to turn ourselves into groupies to watch it.

EW Grade: B+


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