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MOVIE REVIEW : A 'Fatal' Absence of Satirical Instinct

October 29, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you somehow managed to miss any of the erotic murder thrillers of the last five years or so, "Fatal Instinct" (citywide) offers a quick--though not painless--primer in virtually every psychosexual one of them.

A more pointed genre parody intent on proving there's noir business like show business could've been ripping fun. But director Carl Reiner is more intent on offering Cliff's Notes for VCR couch spuds than satire. It's the kind of endlessly referential, toothless spoof that sticks an elbow in your side every 20 seconds or so: "Now we're doing the 'Body of Evidence' candle wax scene! Recognize the funny-hats montage from 'Sleeping With the Enemy'? Get it?"

By the time you've been thus poked and prodded through patchwork re-creations of most of "Fatal Attraction," "Body Heat" and "Cape Fear," your charity for caricature is pretty much rousted by rib fractures.

The picture's original shooting title was "Triple Indemnity," though the change was just as well, since the movie doesn't give its audience enough credit for remembering old movies to spend more than a few token moments referencing anything pre-'80s. Armand Assante stars as Ned Ravine (a combination of tough-talking suckers William Hurt and Michael Douglas), who has an ill-fated, adulterous fling with blond-bewigged temptress Sean Young (doing Kathleen Turner, Glenn Close, Sharon Stone and Madonna).

Assante is also being stalked by psychotic ex-con James Remar (as Robert De Niro) and his insurance money-hungry wife Kate Nelligan (who actually resembles Barbara Stanywck, from a certain angle). His only true friend is loyal secretary Sherilyn Fenn, who's in a spot of stalking trouble herself after feigning death at sea to hide from her abusive husband (a la Julia Roberts).

This manic jumble takes its cues, of course, from the anything-goes absurdity that's been the hallmark of all movie parody since the runaway success of "Naked Gun." The crucial difference is that the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team (at its triadic, pre-split best, anyway) usually approximated the form and not so much the specificity of its sources. "Airplane!" will still be a riot a hundred years from now, but "Fatal Instinct" runs the risk of leaving even its immediate target audience adrift during fleeting homages to flops like "Body of Evidence," "Body Double" and "The Temp."

The casting has its benefits, with Assante an unlikely enough farceur that you have to laugh when he sinks to doing the mambo in high heels, and with Young so very game to make light of her own popular nutso- fatale image.

And Reiner and writer David O'Malley do rack up a few chuckles in the early going: a not-so-high-speed chase in bumper cars; the noir hero who has a ceiling fan in his own auto; even a nice bit of Blake Edwards-style slapstick that takes place in Nelligan's overly populated bedroom.

But, through most of the hobbled homage in "Fatal Instinct" (rated PG-13), Reiner's own best instincts take a turn for the terminal. The man who created "The Dick Van Dyke Show"--and who did similar femme-fearing misogyny and noir spoofery in "The Man With Two Brains" and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" far more successfully--deserves better than to wind up feeding off the Zucker brothers' spoils.

'Fatal Instinct' Armand Assante: Ned Ravine Sherilyn Fenn: Laura Kate Nelligan: Lana Ravine Sean Young: Lola Cain

An MGM presentation of a Jacobs/Gardner production. Director Carl Reiner. Producers Katie Jacobs, Pierce Gardner. Executive producer Pieter Jan Brugge. Screenplay David O'Malley. Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain. Editors Bud Molin, Stephen Myers. Costumes Albert Wolsky. Music Richard Gibbs. Production design Sandy Veneziano. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13 (for language and sexual situations).

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