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movie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Maura Tierney, Donald Sutherland

Review by Walter Frith
1 star out of 4

What do you get when you cross two terrific Oscar winning actors with a totally unoriginal story? Two Oscar winning actors appearing in an unoriginal story, of course. Sound silly? Try and equate the question and answer you just read with the feeling you'll experience after seeing 'Instinct'. Sleeping pills may be needed to stay awake during this film that is like an airliner that never gets off the ground. You just sit there and wait for something to happen.

The posturing of 'Instinct' is outrageously insulting to a movie buff. There is a combination of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', 'The Silence of the Lambs' and 'Gorillas in the Mist' at almost every turn. There is even a copycat camera shot of a scene right out of 'The Shawshank Redemption'. Throw into the mix a confined setting where too much time is spent on one issue and you have the atmosphere of spending an afternoon with a really annoying relative you can't get away from. It's a shame because the performances in this film are very good and don't dignify the pace and texture that this film has to offer.

Anthony Hopkins is Dr. Ethan Powell, an renowned anthropologist who goes missing in 1994 in the jungles of Africa while on an excursion to observe the behavioural traits of gorillas. He is arrested for murder by the authorities and spends a significant amount of time in custody before a U.S. state department official brings him home and he is confined to the psychiatric section of a maximum security prison in Florida. A former colleague of Powell's (Donald Sutherland) assigns a bright young psychologist named Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding Jr.) to help Powell out of his shell. Powell's time in the wilderness has given him psychotic episodes around humans where he is prone to attack them at anytime. In fact, Powell feels more secure and has a better peace of mind when he's in the company of the wilderness than with humans at all, including his daughter (Maura Tierney). Caulder tries to establish a trusting doctor/patient relationship with Powell but fails when Powell resists his attempts at rehabilitation after we learn that it's not his mind that's been affected but rather his environment.

The conditions at the so called care facility are atrocious. The psychiatric wing of the prison is overcrowded. Medication levels are too high for the men. They aren't given the proper recreation time and the guards are especially brutal and harsh with them. Among the prison employees are a pathetic doctor who's just passing time (George Dzundza) and a tough prison guard (John Ashton) whose character is nothing more than a stereotype.

There are two relatively interesting scenes of excitement, one near the beginning and one near the end that give 'Instinct' moments of exclusive and badly needed tension but the rest of the time the film is bogged down with a lot of sappy dialogue and watered down characterizations. Director Jon Turteltaub who has made 'Cool Runnings', 'While You Were Sleeping' and 'Phenomenon' is not a suitable choice for this material which needs a steady and heavy hand and not one experienced at lightweight drama, free floating comedy or romantic overtures.

On the plus side, the performances are very stirring by the two leads. I was overwhelmed to see a young actor like Cuba Gooding Jr. hold his own with a seasoned veteran like Anthony Hopkins. The two of them are solid and are casted well in their roles. Too bad the screenplay by Gerald Di Pego based on the novel entitled 'Ishmael' by Daniel Quinn is such an experience in boredom.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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