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Film / Fatal Instinct

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Fatal Instinct is a 1993 comedy film directed by Carl Reiner that parodies erotic thrillers such as Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Body Heat, as well as other films such as Cape Fear, Double Indemnity and Sleeping with the Enemy.

The movie follows Ned Ravine (police officer and lawyer) who has an affair with a woman named Lola Cain. Ned's wife Lana and her auto mechanic Frank, whom she's having an affair with, start plotting to kill Ned in order to collect on his accident insurance. The film continues, following the ensuing antics involved.

The film stars Armand Assante as Ned, Sean Young as Lola, Kate Nelligan as Lana, James Remar as Max Shady, and Sherilyn Fenn as Laura Lincolnberry, Ned's secretary.

Not to be confused with Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct, though scenes from both do get lampooned in the film. Not to be confused with the 2014 Thriller of the same name involving two detectives trying to track down a serial killer of prostitutes.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Affectionate Parody: "Femme Fatale" movies like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, among others. It can be a little hard to take Double Indemnity seriously after seeing this, as so much of the "hard-boiled" dialogue in Fatal Instinct was lifted directly from that.
  • Aside Glance: Lola Cain, after Ned Ravine turns her down.
  • "Basic Instinct" Legs-Crossing Parody: It lampoons the scene in its theatrical poster, showing a woman sitting with her legs crossed and the tagline "Opening Soon".
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: Oh, so very much.
  • The Big Board: Lana Ravine uses one to explain her murder plan.
  • Big "NO!": Ned Ravine screams the obligatory "No!" when he fears that a jilted ex-lover boiled his skunk.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three principal female characters: blonde Lola, brunette Laura, and redhead Lana.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Twice when Lana is firing her revolver. Lampshaded during the courtroom scene.
  • Camera Abuse: After Ned Ravine finds his skunk missing the camera follows him. As it does so it runs into a tree and the lens breaks.
  • Car Chase: Parodied. The cop/lawyer hero and a crook he arrests and represents chase each other down at a carnival with bumper cars.
  • Cat Scare: Parodied. While Ned Ravine is searching his house for intruders he opens the medicine cabinet in his bathroom and discovers his cat inside it. The cat jumps out yowling.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Both Ravine's unfaithful wife Lana and released convict Max Shady plot to kill him on the same train ride. Lana ends up shooting Shady by mistake because he also wears Ravine's trademark blue suit.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Ned doesn't see anything suspicious when, on the day he has to take a trip out of town, someone steals the engine of his car, forcing him to take the train, and minutes after he discovers this, the auto mechanic he fired a few days before shows up at his door, and is able to give him a lift to the train station.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Parodied with a murder scene where the cops think the victim killed himself with an electric drill. In the back. And the thing's still on.
  • Costume-Test Montage: Ned Ravine takes his secretary Laura Lincolnberry to a store to buy her a gift and they both end up trying on women's clothes to the tune Brown Eyed Girl.
  • Cue Card: Ned Ravine's partner holds up cards with Miranda Rights written on them.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Laura had been on the run from her abusive husband.
  • Double Entendre: Parodied during Lola Cain's seduction of Ned Ravine, where their innuendo gets increasingly convoluted until it involves clone duplicates and dying in a house fire.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Parodied in-universe, with the protagonist's internal monologue being comprised of constant non-sequiturs, nonsensical analogies, and meaningless insights.
  • Femme Fatale: Lola Cain and Lana Ravine.
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted by Lana; she's coldly calculating.
  • 555: Lampshaded (like so many other tropes) by every phone number being 555-5555.
  • Flashback Echo: In a parody of Sleeping with the Enemy. Twice when Laura Lincolnberry sees some disarranged towels, she has a flashback to her abusive husband getting angry at her because of his obsessive need for everything to be perfectly arranged, including towels.
  • The Fool: Lawyer/cop Ned Ravine wanders blisfully through life as an ignorant buffoon, not noticing that several different people are all plotting his death.
    Ned: I don't look as dumb as I am.
  • Freudian Threat: In the backstory, Max Shady threatened to cut off his lawyer Ned Ravine's penis after Ravine lost Shady's case.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Laura Lincolnberry uses one to give her ex-husband a Tap on the Head.
  • Fun with Subtitles: Lana and Frank meet in the park to plot Ned's murder. They speak in Yiddish so no one can understand them, but an observer comments on their conversation, explaining that "I can read the subtitles."
  • Funny Background Event: At a murder scene the cops in the background keep falling over each other due to the amount of blood on the floor.
  • Going Commando: Lola Cain. When she puts both of her legs on a desk and presents herself to Ned Ravine (Armand Assante), he sees that she's bottomless under her white dress. So he gives her a pair of lacy, lilac, pop-up panties to wear.
  • Groin Attack: Lana at the shooting range with a human-shaped target.
  • His and Hers: Parodied with those of Laura Lincolnberry and her abusive husband.
  • Hollywood Law: It would not be legal for a lawyer to defend someone he played a direct role in arresting, as this would be a conflict of interest. Fortunately, the film runs on Rule of Funny.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Parodied. When Max Shady test fires his silencer-equipped weapon in the train it makes a soft "fwip" as usual. He adjusts the silencer to "softer" and fires it again: this time it makes no noise at all.
  • Inner Monologue: During dinner, Ned and Laura accidentally hear each other's thoughts. Then it turns into the Inner Dialogue.
  • Insurance Fraud: Lana tries to kill her husband to collect on his life insurance and be able to shack up with her lover. But in order to maximize the insurance payout, she has to arrange for him to die under absurdly specific conditions: namely, that he be shot with a pistol, fall out of a northbound train, and land in a river.
  • Lady in Red: Lola Cain, the Femme Fatale, appears in a red dress when she seduces Ned Ravine.
  • Left the Background Music On:
    • During The Reveal that Lola and Lana are sisters.
    • Whenever Lola is on screen there is usually a visible saxophone player in the background. Spoofed in a later scene where the sax is replaced by a trumpet (played by Doc Severinsen, no less!) because Clarence had the night off.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Ned Ravine has a closet completely filled with identical blue suits. He asks his secretary which one he should wear. The secretary responds "The blue one".
  • Look Both Ways: While Ned is getting lost in one of his private monologues, he gets run over by a bus. He shrugs it off in the next scene.
  • Low-Speed Chase: Ned and the masked crook engage in one involving bumper cars.
  • Made of Iron: Max Shady at first doesn't seem to notice that Lana is shooting him.
  • Medium Awareness: There are several such moments, including this interaction: "You speak Yiddish?" "No, but I can read the subtitles." - at which point, the two characters discussing the murder/insurance fraud plot look down at their subtitles and Face Palm.
  • Miranda Rights: Ned Ravine reads them to a captured bank robber.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: See above. They got Kate Nelligan right, at least.
  • Mr. Exposition: Secretary Laura Lincolnberry explains the situation in great detail to her boss Ned Ravine.
  • Murder by Mistake: Lana Ravine and Max Shady both attempt to kill Ned Ravine on a train ride (the former for her husband's life insurance, the latter for revenge). Lana ends up shooting Shady by mistake because he happens to be wearing the same blue suit as her husband, making them look sorta similar when viewed from the back.
  • Name of Cain: Seriously, when you run into a Femme Fatale named "Lola Cain", don't be surprised that she's morally bankrupt.
  • Newspaper-Thin Disguise: Max Shady (the escaped ex-con stalking Ned Ravine) does this several times. At least once his picture was on the front of the newspaper.
  • Overcome with Desire: Ned breaks into Lana's house in a parody of a similar scene from Body Heat where the male protagonist, driven mad with lust for the Femme Fatale, breaks down a door to consummate their affair. Turns out he just forgot his car keys.
  • Overt Rendezvous: Lana and Frank meet in a park to plot the death of Ned.
  • Parody Names: The main character, a lawyer/cop named Ned Ravine, is a take-off on William Hurt's character from Body Heat, a lawyer named Ned Racine.
  • Punched Across the Room: Lola Cain to Ned Ravine after he calls her a "sure thing".
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy
  • The Reliable One: Laura is this for Ned.
  • Second-Face Smoke: Spoofed via Overly-Long Gag when the Femme Fatale keeps blowing smoke in the protagonist's face until he's covered by a layer of smog.
    Ned Ravine: I think you smoke too much.
  • Sexophone: A saxophone player actually follows the Femme Fatale around during her more sultry moments. Spoofed in a later scene where the sax is replaced by a trumpet (played by Doc Severinsen, no less!) because Clarence had the night off.
  • Shout-Out: The title, to Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction.
    • Many within the dialogue and the plot.
  • Smelly Skunk: Averted; he's been descented.
  • Spinning Paper: The headline for Lana Ravine's trial is introduced this way until Lola Cain yanks it out of the air.
  • Spiteful Spit: Max Shady to Ned Ravine when he was found guilty.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Ned denying that he knows Lola.
  • Tap on the Head: Laura Lincolnberry knocks out her ex-husband by hitting him on the head with a Frying Pan of Doom.
  • Tattooed Crook: Spoofed by Max Shady. His prison tattoos include quotes by Pee Wee Herman and Bart Simpson, and mementos to remind him which of his hands is right or left.
  • That Poor Cat: Occurs twice: once when Laura Lincolnberry punches and breaks the cookie jar, and again when she shoots Lola Cain and Lana Ravine at the same time.
  • That Was Objectionable: Spoofed during Lana Ravine's trial.
    Prosecuting attorney: Your honor, I object! There's no reason for this trial to concern itself with the facts of the case!
  • Turn in Your Badge: Ned throws his away in the climax and settles for just being a lawyer full time.
  • Underside Ride: Max Shady hangs onto the underside of a vehicle while it drives along. When he gets out, it's revealed that friction with the roadway wore through his clothing, exposing his buttocks.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The last the audience sees of Laura Lincolnberry's stalker ex-husband is him being knocked out by a Tap on the Head with a frying pan. He clearly isn't killed by the attack, but the film doesn't say what happens to him.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: During the Fun with Subtitles scene.
  • You Just Told Me: Ned Ravine's secretary Laura Lincolnberry and the lipstick that wasn't on his collar.