When it comes to sex in movies, the media has a tendency to behave like seventh-graders giggling during Sex Ed class, as evidenced by the oft- embarrassing press that greeted Brokeback Mountain. So perhaps it was inevitable that Basic Instinct 2 would somehow become a referendum on Sharon Stone's desirability and the sexuality of middle-aged women as much as a quickie sequel released a decade too late. Fortunately, as a showcase for Sharon Stone's physique, Basic Instinct 2 is a rousing success. In every other respect, it's a colossal failure.

The miscalculation begins with the casting of David Morrissey in a role that seemingly every actor short of Corey Feldman turned down. A formidable competitor for Blandest Man in Britannia, Morrissey initially looks and acts like he should play Liam Neeson's son. But by the end of the film, Morrissey barely seems qualified to serve as Neeson's stand-in. Co-screenwriter Henry Bean (The Believer) likes to wallow in moral ambiguities, but the plot plays like a cartoon burlesque of his work, featuring Morrissey as a straight-arrow psychiatrist who becomes dangerously obsessed with Stone after she's suspected in a soccer star's mysterious death. In a good indication of the film's lurid sensibility, that ill-fated footballer died while having sex, speeding in a fast car, and using drugs—all at the same time.

The filmmakers go out of their way to create an iconic aura around Stone. But history and the film's ineptitude defeat their efforts. Of course, it doesn't help that Stone's face looks so disconcertingly airbrushed and inhuman that she seems to have been replaced with a CGI double. A note of desperation has entered Stone's performance as well. In the original Basic Instinct, she dragged the Kim Novak archetype into the age of Ecstasy and AIDS, but here, she adds Mae West campiness to the glacial iciness. Basic Instinct 2 is still selling sex, but it isn't so tempting a proposition this time around. When Stone tries to titillate Morrissey with bawdy banter, she sounds less like a seductive femme fatale pulling a patsy deeper into her web than like a bratty adolescent trying to shock authority figures with references to blowjobs and orgasms. Actually, that's as a pretty apt description of Basic Instinct 2 as well.