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A vixen unloosed Sharon Stone pops up in London as a wily sexual predator

When last we left Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammell in the original "Basic Instinct," she'd flashed a body part that made her immortal in American iconography, not to mention the Great American Jokebook.

It wasn't a body part that Glenda Jackson -- an infinitely better actress, before politics snagged her for good -- hadn't shown us 20 years earlier in "The Music Lovers" by Ken Russell, that full frontal movie troublemaker.

The difference, though, was in the context. Jackson's total nakedness was vulnerable and moving. Stone's uncrossed-leg flash was brazen, a way to dominate a room full of men who weren't exactly used to sexually voracious women using their sexuality to turn a squadron of them into fumbling little boys.

It was, in general, a pretty sexy movie, a good erotic thriller that updated the conniving mind-messing spiderwoman of '40s film noir into an upscale '90s San Francisco that seemed full of decadence and moral dissipation on every block. The fact that it made such an impression and is still so widely remembered and joked about is yet another benchmark in our traditional national puerility about sex and the human body.

So now we've got "Basic Instinct 2" taking place in London. Our gal Cat is still writing steamy best-sellers, saying sexy and provocative things, and messing with male heads. And she's still up to her finely sculpted hips in dead bodies.

The first is a drugged soccer player who was in such a paralytic stupor when she drove her Spyker off a bridge at 100 mph that he didn't know he was pleasuring her at the time. In a reverse Chappaquiddick, she sets herself free and swims to the surface leaving the Brit footballer to drown.

Nevermind that in her 100-mph joyride through London during the wee small hours, there wasn't another car or human being to be seen -- this in a 24-hour city sometimes called "the capital of the Third World." It's the movies, you know?

At her trial, a shrink declares her a narcissistic sociopath addicted to risk. Guess whose brain is about to turn into Catherine's next volleyball.

There are more victims -- an inquiring journalist, an unfortunate woman, both of them found in thoroughly demeaning display.

She puts herself on the shrink's couch and him, eventually, into her bed. In the process, she takes him from the world of junior varsity schoolboy mind-messing he's used to into the professional playoffs. Whether he's man enough -- and shrink enough -- to cope with a sociopathic and murderous degenerate like Cat is the plotline.

Which is to say there is no plot at all because you know where this movie is going from the minute you park yourself in your seat.

If Stone did this merely to prove that a 47-year-old woman (she's 48 now) can look terrific in a lot of nude scenes -- and generally -- then more power to her. She certainly looks sensational, in clothes or out. In our youth-besotted culture, that isn't as negligible a point as it would be in a more open, sophisticated, mature and sane one.

As for her performance in this low-camp companion piece to "Showgirls," it is profoundly terrible. Every second line is delivered as a leering sexual come-on or menacing double-entendre; every glance is a glower from her libido or even lower portion of the old reptile brain we all have within. She vamps through three-quarters of her scenes with silent film fervor as if she were the reincarnation of Nita Naldi.

So help me, she may not be all the way up there into overwrought absurdity with Faye Dunaway in "Mommie Dearest" but that's the richly absurd neighborhood she's in.

In other words, this movie, bad as it is, is a hoot.

The naked truth here is that it's an utterly terrible movie but it's enjoyably terrible. And I have no doubt it's going to make heaps of money.

For the record, there are wonderful actors caught up in this thing -- David Morrissey as the virile shrink whose head is turned into a jar of Vaseline, David Thewlis as the dogged and morally ambiguous cop and the great Charlotte Rampling as a senior shrink caught up in the manipulation.

Just as the original "Basic Instinct" gave us a small role filled by historic film noir goddess Dorothy Malone, this thing gives us a now-mature Charlotte Rampling, once upon a time the living symbol of carnal decadence in swinging London movies.

Her dignity and humanity are unassailable, even in this movie.

I'm sure there's a lesson there though, to be frank, I haven't the foggiest idea what it might be.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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>MOVIE REVIEW

Basic Instinct 2

Review: Two stars (out of 4)

Sharon Stone, David Morrissey, David Thewlis and Charlotte Rampling in the return of the sexually ravenous novelist and all the murdered bodies around her. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Rated R, opening Friday in area theaters.

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