Fatal Instinct

1993, Movie, PG-13, 89 mins

Review

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FATAL INSTINCT, a movie parody directed by Carl Reiner in the vein of Mel Brooks's work and his own DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, spoofs FATAL ATTRACTION and BASIC INSTINCT, with DOUBLE INDEMNITY and other noir films thrown in for good measure (Reiner even does a Hitchcock-style cameo in profile--while urinating). The cast tries but the laughs simply aren't there, despite the filmmakers' apparent conviction that homages plus penis jokes equals wit.

Detective-lawyer Ned Ravine (Armand Assante) meets beautiful, lustful Lola Cain (Sean Young) at a carnival. Ned is married to the neglected Lana (Kate Nelligan), who's having an affair with mechanic Frank Kelbo (Christopher McDonald), who's apparently on retainer to fix the family car. Ned also has a perfect secretary, Laura (Sherilyn Fenn), in love with her boss but plagued by memories of a husband who tormented her with disorderly bathroom towels.

Lola arranges to meet Ned at a club under the pretext of discussing a case. After seductively blowing smoke into Ned's face for a very long time, Lola coaxes Ned back to her house, where she makes love to him in all sorts of awkward locations. Lana, meanwhile, arranges with Frank to murder Ned on a train such that it will appear a freak accident, qualifying her for the "triple indemnity" payment on Ned's insurance. Ned must also contend with vengeful psychotic Max Shady (James Remar), just released from prison.

Phoning Ned at home, Lola discovers the murder plot and tries to tell Ned but, frustrated, throws an ice pick at his crotch and storms away. Frank creates "car trouble" by removing the engine from Ned's car, forcing Ned to take the train on his out-of-town business. Max also boards the train, but Lana mistakes Max for Ned and shoots him. Ned dutifully arrests his wife for killing Shady, but also arranges to defend her. He throws Lola out of his house after she kidnaps the family skunk and later breaks into his home to make dinner. Ned wins his case but sees Lana repurchasing her gun in the court-sponsored sale after the trial.

Lana kills Frank for abandoning her, and Lola reveals herself as Lana's vengeful twin, who seduced Ned to wreck Lana's marriage. Lola shoots Lana, then charges at Ned with her ice pick, but he blows her away with a hair dryer. Laura, having figured everything out, shows up in time to brain her ex- with a pan and shoot both Lola and Lana, neither of whom was quite dead. Ned and Laura embrace.

FATAL INSTINCT takes a long time for its plot to build momentum, and when it does, is in constant danger of tripping up on the resulting muddle. References fly thick and fast--the fondness for "Madame Butterfly" from FATAL ATTRACTION replaced by one for heavy metal band Iron Butterfly, Shady's hands tattooed "LEFT" and "RITE" instead of "LOVE" and "HATE" a la NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, the impassioned Ned trying to break through Lola's glass door with decidedly less success than William Hurt's character in BODY HEAT--but the majority of them are neither clever nor especially funny. Reiner was behind many inspired moments on TV's landmark "Your Show of Shows," but sketch comedy can't sustain a feature-length film unless a sizable percentage of the lines leave audiences so helpless with mirth that they find themselves cracking up at even the bad jokes. And hardworking Ned's claim that he does take days off, "Columbus Day, Groundhog's Day, Doris Day," just isn't amusing.

Naturally the film pokes fun at the conventions of the film medium as well, but the routines are endlessly protracted. The film's only truly memorable shot is of Assante, at one point called a "mambo king," dancing in a pair of red high-heeled pumps to Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl." It's these trivial surprises which work: the pictures of Hitler and Julie Andrews in Shady's prison cell, or the verbatim reprise of the speeding car sex metaphor from DOUBLE INDEMNITY which is infinitely sexier and funnier than all the penis jokes. (Profanity, sexual situations.) leave a comment

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