Fatal Instinct (1993) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual humor and language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Armand Assante, Sean Young, Sherilyn Fenn, Kate Nelligan, Christopher McDonald, James Remar, Tony Randall, Clarence Clemons, John Witherspoon, Bob Uecker, Rosie O'Donnell (cameo), Carl Reiner (cameo), Eartha Kitt (cameo), Jane Lynch (cameo), George Lopez (cameo), Doc Severinsen (cameo)
Director: Carl Reiner
Screenplay: David O'Malley
Review published March 30, 2007
Originally starting as a satire built around the plot to the classic noir film, Double Indemnity (the original shooting script was called Triple Indemnity), Fatal Instinct injects a heaping dose of spoofs on modern neo-noir plus the tawdry sex thrillers that have come out over the 1970s to the early 1990s. Chinatown, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat, Cape Fear (the Scorsese remake) -- and of course, the two films from which it draws its generic title, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. It's too wide a span of films to cover, not to mention that modern film noir is practically incongruous with the more seedy, Hitchcockian elements intrinsic to the nightmarish erotic thrillers that dominated the years just prior to Fatal Instinct's release. It's hard to be a sharp screwball spoof when the focus is this broad and scattered over so many decades and so many different styles of films.
Armand Assante (Hoffa, Judge Dredd) stars as Ned Ravine, a tenacious cop who moonlights as a defense attorney, and he's good at both, booking the same alleged criminals that he later gets off in court. One thing he doesn't know is that his beloved wife, Lana (Nelligan, Wolf), is having an affair with their auto mechanic (McDonald, Thelma & Louise), while also using him to plot a murder that will hit a "triple indemnity" clause that will bring forth a great insurance settlement for her if they can bump him off in such an incredible fashion. Meanwhile, Ned enters into an affair of his own when a sexy seductress named Lola Cain (Young, No Way Out) enters his life, and she's not one to take loving and leaving lightly.
Director Carl Reiner (The One and Only, The Man with Two Brains) returns to spoofing noir once again, which he had done to a much better extent in his 1982 film, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. Reiner's direction is in fine form once again with Fatal Instinct, as he does correctly capture the look and atmosphere of the popular erotic thriller to a tee, but it's the material itself that ultimately lets us all down. It's a safe assumption to state that some people will find things funny that I do not, but I can't recommend a screwball comedy that I didn't laugh at a single time.
Recurring gags abound, like musician Clarence Clemmons following the lead characters around while playing his sax, or Lola getting objects stuck to the bottom of her high-heeled shoes; jokes that are funnier to think about than to actually see. Most of the amusement factor of Fatal Instinct comes through its goofy nature rather than sharp, incisive references to a genre of movies. Armand Assante dances in ladies shoes for one scene, while James Remar (Drugstore Cowboy), a character spoofing the Max Cady character from Cape Fear, tries on women's clothing along with them. Ned literally blows away Lola using a hair dryer, a man wearing a stocking over his head chews gum through the netting, and a great many gags are wordplay groaners like this courtroom exchange:
"How does the jury find the defendant on the count of murder?"
"On the count of conspiracy?"
"On the Count of Monte Cristo?"
Fatal Instinct benefits from good comedic performances from a quality cast, especially tough guy Armand Assante showing great flair for broad, physical slapstick and satirical dialogue. Reiner also keeps the energy high and the gags coming fast. It's just too bad the spoofs don't crack sharp enough, and the conceptual basis for the spoof itself is all over the place. There's no evidence of a comedic instinct in David O'Malley's screenplay, which proves to be the quality that makes it fatal. The sole laugh I could muster at all of the sophomoric shenanigans came though an unintentional sight gag: the final shot of the film shows a skunk (another DOA recurring gag) looking directly at us. Ironic, considering how I had been looking directly at a skunk -- this stinker of a movie -- for the 90 previous minutes.
©2007 Vince Leo