Fatal Instinct (1993)

2009 #86
Carl Reiner | 90 mins | download | 15 / PG-13

Fatal InstinctHaving just recently laid into High Anxiety, a spoof in a broadly similar style that also took on thrillers, it seems a little hypocritical to praise this, which flopped so badly in the US it went straight to video over here. Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple, and where Mel Brooks’ effort failed to amuse me this succeeded.

The plot, such as it is, doesn’t bear much discussion, being a loose amalgamation of half a dozen other films in the name of spoofery. So too the performances — no one distinguishes themselves as a comedic genius, but none let the side down. Reiner’s direction is equally fine, setting up and paying off the visual, verbal and aural jokes perfectly well. He drops the ball in a couple of instances however, allowing several jokes to run on well past their natural conclusion, and indulging in a few well-worn staples of the genre — the on-screen-musicians-playing-the-score turn up, for example, although at least there’s a nice variation at one point involving a tape player.

It’s a little difficult to understand exactly why it flopped so badly in the US as it followed in the wake of the similarly-styled Hot Shots!, which was successful enough to spawn a sequel. But then perhaps exactly that hindered it — Fatal Instinct’s release came just a few months after Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Or perhaps its targets were just too broad to attract a mass audience. While it ostensibly tackles then-recent thrillers like Basic Instinct, Cape Fear and Fatal Attraction (though the latter was already six years old at this point), it also has a lot of time devoted to the tropes of film noir, in particular Double Indemnity. Relying so heavily on a 50-year-old film isn’t likely to earn you much favour among the masses.

I’ve not seen any of those ’80s/’90s thrillers it targets, but Fatal Instinct seems to stick to the most famous bits, making the references easy to appreciate even for those with just a passing knowledge. Conversely, it seemed to me that having seen Double Indemnity would be a major advantage. But then again, perhaps that’s simply because I spotted the references to it and missed references to the films I hadn’t seen without, er, missing them, and anyone who hadn’t seen Double Indemnity would survive in much the same way. At the very least I’m sure it’s easier to follow than this paragraph…

Fatal Instinct may not be terribly original in and of itself — though, obviously, the films it chooses to spoof set it apart from its kin — and some of the gags are very much old hat (a roving camera bumps into something and breaks the lens, for instance), while others go on too long — as does the film itself, actually — but anyone who enjoyed all the films mentioned in this review may find it’s capable of raising a few smiles.

3 out of 5

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