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
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.