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What do Leora Barish and Henry Bean, an intellectual, artistic couple who live on Manhattan's Upper West Side and are active in their synagogue, have to do with the critically slammed vehicle for diva Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct 2, which just opened worldwide? Not only did they write the film, but they spent years working on various versions of it.
I learned about this entertaining paradox when I met Bean, who was in Israel for the 2001 Jerusalem Film Festival with his directorial debut, The Believer. The Believer was a highly intelligent film about a young neo-Nazi who is secretly Jewish but nevertheless plans and executes a terror bombing of a synagogue. It was tough, uncompromising and clearly would not be a big hit with the typical moviegoer, but it was a huge success on the festival circuit, winning the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and the top prize at the Moscow Film Festival. Knowing that no one gets rich making independent films like The Believer, I asked Bean what else he did for a living. Bean, who had been working as a screenwriter for years, said, "I rewrite the Basic Instinct sequel." He co-wrote the screenplay with his wife and frequent collaborator, Barish, who is probably best known for writing the script for Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Madonna's feature film debut. In recent years, Barish had begun to devote herself to her work as a painter. In 2001, Bean and Barish had already put years of work into this frequently delayed project, the sequel to the sexy 1992 thriller in which Sharon Stone uncrossed her legs and went from a starlet who made movies like Police Academy 4 (1987) into a bona fide star. Stone eventually earned an Oscar nomination for Martin Scorsese's Casino and is now celebrated as a fashion icon and supporter of causes such as AIDS research. She also gets script and cast approval on most of her films. The rumors about the delays on the Basic sequel mainly had to do with Stone's disapproval of many proposed co-stars, including Benjamin Bratt, the Law & Order. Robert Downey Jr. (he played Ally's most serious boyfriend on Ally McBeal) was considered at one point, but then had to drop out because of one of his drug arrests. In the end, the winner was David Morrissey, a critically acclaimed British actor who is probably best known outside England for his role in Hilary and Jackie and has also appeared in the television series Blackpool recently. He is married to novelist Esther Freud (Hideous Kinky), a great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud.
Given all the talent and time put into the Basic sequel, is the film being acclaimed as a masterpiece? No, the reviews have been uniformly negative and there were reports of frequent unintentional laughter at preview screenings. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called it "a disaster of the highest or perhaps lowest order." Dargis muses on how unkind Hollywood is to over-40 actresses, writing, "[Stone's] face looks strangely inert, and she seems ill at ease. Ms. Stone has famously denied having plastic surgery, and maybe that's true, but, man, does she look weird here." Kyle Smith in the New York Post echoes the thought, saying, "At this point, there are inflatable toys that are livelier than Stone, but how can you tell the difference? Basic Instinct 2 is not an erotic thriller. It's taxidermy."
While Bean and Barish undoubtedly would have preferred glowing reviews, they are most likely more concerned about the film's commercial success at this point. In the years since his visit to the Jerusalem Film Festival, Bean has used some of his Basic Instinct 2 wages to write and direct a new film, Noise, about a New Yorker being driven crazy by noise pollution, which he was talking about in 2001. It stars Tim Robbins (Mystic River) and Bridget Moynahan (Big's wife on Sex and the City). Maybe Bean will bring "Noise" to this year's Jerusalem Film fest.
FRENCH DIRECTOR JACQUES AUDIARD will be at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. for a screening of The Beat that My Heart Skipped, his most recent film, which dominated this year's Cesar Awards, the French Oscars. It's a remake of the 1978 James Toback film, Fingers, starring Harvey Keitel. It tells the story of a concert pianist torn between his music and his work as an enforcer for his father, a gangster.