Essentially a formulaic John Grisham drama with shrinks instead of lawyers,"Instinct" is the kind of ostensibly cerebral project that attractsbig talent with challenging central characters, but ultimately never risesto the level of its stars because everything else is pure paint- by- numbers.
It stars Anthony Hopkins as another caged and dangerousgenius (call him Hannibal of the Apes), an asylumed primatologist accusedof murdering a pair of poachers in Rwanda two years after abandoning humanexistence to live among a clan of African mountain gorillas.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. play a cocksure, ambitious Universityof Massachusetts psychology resident (with fatherly Donald Sutherland fora mentor) who is in over his head trying to treat Hopkins, but who seesthis misunderstood maniac as an opportunity to rocket himself into a prestigiouscareer.
Most of the film takes place in prison therapy sessions,during which Gooding tries to draw out the man buried under Hopkins' animalinstincts.
The first sign that this movie is going to be a let-downcomes with the fact that this task is disappointingly easy. For a couplemeetings, Hopkins just sits there looking feral with his unmanageable graymane of split ends and his wild eyes, saying nothing (although he doesattack Gooding a couple of times just to make the audience jump).
But very quickly and without much encouragement he becomescoherent and loquacious, narrating a lengthy but somehow still rushed seriesof flashbacks that recount -- in an avalanche of cheap symbolism and ironicallyinorganic atmosphere -- his going gorilla and the events leading up tothe (obviously justified) killings.
Naturally, Gooding is pretty proud of himself at this pointand thinks he's in control, but once his patient starts speaking, theirrelationship becomes a psychological battle, and -- as we know from "Silenceof the Lambs" -- when you're playing mind games with an Anthony Hopkinscharacter, you're gonna lose.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub ("Phenomenon")and suggested by a Daniel Quinn novel called "Ishmael" ("suggestedby" usually means the movie takes wild liberties with the book), "Instinct"is an engrossing idea that succumbed to the fallacies of Screenwriting101. You can see the intelligent story struggling to get out, but its beenrestrained and sedated by the rigidity of the prefabricated script, whichironically disparages structure and control.
In such scripts, there must be messages put forth (freedom,nature good; prison system, modern man bad), lessons learned (helping peopleis more noble than blind ambition), moments of triumph (asylum prisonerslearn to assert themselves as the soundtrack swells) and moments of tearfulrevelation ("You taught me how to live!" cries Cuba).
But in trying to shoehorn in all this generic pap, Turteltaubmisses the boat on what should be driving his movie -- the personalities.The overrated Cuba Gooding, Jr. ads little uniqueness to his characterand brings no depth to his emergence from his world of blind ambition.Hopkins, while well cast, gives a vague performance that is more esotericthan it is intelligently abstract. He never gives his character a sensefeeling lost in civilization after being dragged from his natural homein the jungle.
Even though it's peppered with logical loopholes and otherinconsistencies (Maura Tierney, as Hopkins' daughter, is a bitter, pent-upchain smoker who turns practically cuddly in later scenes), had "Instinct"shaken off its Grisham-esque recipe, it might have been the movie theseactors probably thought it would be when they signed on, several re-writesago.
But the way it turned out, it's merely proof that two AcademyAward winners do not a good movie make.
Run time: 126 mins
In Theaters: Friday 4th June 1999
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Spyglass Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 48
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Also starring: Cuba Gooding Junior
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