Basic Instinct 2 has a sensationally trashy opener: Speeding through London in the snazziest sports car, the relentlessly evil driver, Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone), wets the finger of her near-comatose male companion, a famous footballer, and inserts it between her legs. She shrieks, the car shrieks, and we in the audience shriek as she orgasms, while the car crashes into the Thames.

Sadly, nothing following lives up to the prurient promise of this sequence, as the film becomes a monotonously talky, gloomy affair, pocked with a series of murders which, given what we already know about Catherine, are completely devoid of suspense. Michael Caton-Jones' direction is both relentlessly dark and flat, with none of the dirty spark which occasionally enlivened the first Basic Instinct. If anything, it's more of a triumph for production designer Norman Garwood, who gives us a London sleek with maleficence, especially Catherine's lair: a sleek loft dominated by-what else?-an Egon Schiele.

Her face surgically smoothed so as to be virtually lineless, Stone gives what could literally be called a deadpan performance. No expression, save a faint indentation near the nostrils, dents that impassive mask, and her line delivery has a similar lack of life to it. She growls out her every utterance in a leaden fashion which makes you realize how vital a part the voice once played in classic film noir portrayals: Mary Astor's throbbing delicacy in The Maltese Falcon, Barbara Stanwyck's coarse Brooklynese in Double Indemnity, Rita Hayworth's lulling girlishness in The Lady from Shanghai. What Stone does offer in the place of more conventionally traditional attributes is, one cannot help but saying, her vagina. From that opening scene to one in which she straddles a chair while being interrogated by the criminal psychologist (David Morrissey) whose life she is bent on destroying, there are frequent quotes to her most notorious moment from this film's predecessor, which will only elicit simultaneous viewer groans and hoots.

Morrissey gives a stiff performance which fails to generate any heat-seeking chemistry with La Stone. David Thewlis doubtlessly needed a paycheck, which would be the only reason for the appearance he makes here. Charlotte Rampling-once a pretty potent symbol of female malevolence herself-is wasted in the role of a shrink haplessly seduced by busy befouler Catherine.

-David Noh