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Instinct

movie reviewmovie review out of 4


*Also starring: Maura Tierney, Donald Sutherland



Review by MrBrown
1 star out of 4

Jon Turteltaub has proven to be an effective popcorn director for Disney: among his credits are 1995's irresistible Sandra Bullock-Bill Pullman romantic charmer _While_You_Were_Sleeping_ and the pleasant 1996 John Travolta fantasy-drama _Phenomenon_. Like many a popcorn filmmaker before him, Turteltaub has apparently felt need to prove his dramatic chops, hence his name at the helm of the psychological drama _Instinct_. But instead of coming up with something reminiscent of, say, _The_Silence_of_the_Lambs_ (whose spirit Turteltaub clearly tries to evoke) the soggy result is more along the manipulative lines of _Patch_Adams_--which, coincidentally enough, was an attempt at a "heavy" effort by "light" director Tom Shadyac.

The _Silence_ similarity shines through most brightly with the presence of Anthony Hopkins, who plays another diagnosed psychotic in _Instinct_: primatologist Ethan Powell, who returns to the United States from the African wilds a silent, quick-tempered, animalistic murderer sentenced to a prison for the criminally insane. More shades of _Silence_ come in when an ambitious youngster--in this case, psychiatrist Dr. Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding Jr.)--is called on to unlock Powell's brilliant but disturbed mind.

If Turteltaub and scripter Gerald DiPego had left _Instinct_ that basic, the film would not have been great, but it certainly would have been better than it currently is. Living up to their reputations as Oscar-winning actors, neither Hopkins nor Gooding embarrass themselves, delivering respectable performances and displaying a convincing rapport. What is embarrassing, however, is the amount of sappy manipulation Turteltaub and DiPego slap onto this primary plotline. Of course, _Instinct_ is not only about Powell's mysterious African adventure but also how he and Caulder change each other. But it did it have to be quite so maudlin, with Caulder delivering a histrionic "This Is How I've Changed" monologue that also doubles as a teary farewell scene?

Perhaps that should not have been so surprising, since, contrary to outward appearances, the film's main concern is not the divide between man's animalistic and civilized nature but shameless tearwringing. The reality of Powell's time in Africa and the reasons for his change are considerably less interesting than they promise to be; at the heart of it is none other than the L-word, love--for a family of gorillas. Also, the _Patch_Adams_ comparison is actually quite apt, for one prominent subplot deals with mistreatment of inmates at Powell's prison, led by a brutal guard (John Ashton), who, in turn, is overseen by a hardass warden (John Aylward) who won't hear of Caulder's ideas of gentler treatment. One pivotal scene where all the inmates finally take a stand for themselves is every bit as gagworthy as _Patch_'s infamous hearing with the red-nosed cancer kids.

After seeing the abomination that is _Instinct_, it is understandable why Hopkins toyed with retirement from film acting; it is soulless exercises in manipulation such as this that robs any of the enjoyment or genuine excitement of cinema.

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