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) 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.