Novelist Catherine Tramell is once again in trouble with the law, and Scotland Yard appoints psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass to evaluate her. Though, like Detective Nick Curran before him, Glass is entranced by Tramell and lured into a seductive game.
A former rock star, Johnny Boz, is brutally killed during sex, and the case is assigned to detective Nick Curran of the SFPD. During the investigation, Nick meets Catherine Tramell, a crime novelist who was Boz's girlfriend when he died. Catherine proves to be a very clever and manipulative woman, and though Nick is more or less convinced that she murdered Boz, he is unable to find any evidence. Later, when Nilsen, Nick's rival in the police, is killed, Nick suspects of Catherine's involvement in it. He then starts to play a dangerous lust-filled mind game with Catherine to nail her, but as their relationship progresses, the body count rises and contradicting evidences force Nick to start questioning his own suspicions about Catherine's guilt. Written by
Thriller which achieves screen magic of the golden age.
Paul Verhoeven has created a masterwork from Joe Eszterhas' controversial script. Several sex scenes become a leitmotif, as the participants appear to pummel, rather than love, one another with their nether parts. But the most rugged and the most erotic scene occurs between Detective Nick Curran, Michael Douglas, and his colleague, Beth Garner, portrayed by Jeanne Tripplehorn. He throws her against a wall and then against the back of a chesterfield. That is only the foreplay. In this film sex is violence, and that is Verhoeven's theme.
But there is more. Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell has a beautiful blonde form in that Beach Boy / California girl manner. She plays her 'flashing' scene in the police interrogation room with wit and a touch of class. Throughout the film she is arch, intelligent, electric. Her foil, Nick Curran, a troubled detective, realizes she might be a murderer, but finds her personality and her allure, irresistible. Douglas' performance is driven, masculine, affecting ... yet he would be well advised to keep his trousers on henceforth, for his sagging bottom is simply too comical.
There are several echoes of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (58). Both pictures have as a setting the picturesque San Francisco area. Jerry Goldsmith's music recalls Bernard Herrmann's symphonic score. The stairwell in Curran's apartment building resembles the vertiginous staircase of the Mission bell tower. And as with Hitchcock the dialogue is often simultaneously risque and humorous, although more vulgar in keeping with the tenor of modern times.
Eszterhas' script is carefully crafted, and it does not cheat. Life proves ambiguous at many levels, and so does art. The mystery is dark; the action, including a car chase, thrills; and the locale continually shifts, from a cop station to Catherine's lovely seaside house to a colorful bar where Catherine's jealous female lover and Curran engage in a sensual battle for her charms.
Day, night, sun, rain, streets, highways, scenery, ocean, sex, emotion, confrontations, death ... the film envelops everything, perhaps even love. Here, Verhoeven, Eszterhas, Douglas, Stone, have achieved some screen magic of the past.
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