With her red-hot performance as a Hollywood hooker in ''L.A. Confidential,'' the actress startles skeptics and puts her rocky reputation behind her

You, dear reader, probably have more noble concerns, since you’re a family-minded citizen who tends not to keep abreast of the sin-sational side of life, but this week, we offer a palpably percolating profile of the curvaceously clever Kim Basinger.

With a new Hollywood flick, L.A. Confidential, our Kim, who is said to have gotten 3 million big ones for her role, has suddenly become a real headline grabber. She’s even getting the old one-two, give-that-girl-an-Oscar ballyhoo from critics who say her turn as a mysterious call girl in Curtis Hanson’s spellbinding take on James Ellroy’s noirish novel might just be the best performance of her lightning-hot career. Stupefying, Kim, stupefying!

But believe it or not, our dear Miss B. almost tossed that fine script into the garbaggio after she first read it. ”I thought, ‘No way!”’ the fair-haired beauty told us exclusively. ”I’m not playing a prostitute. Never!” Good thing that flashy agent of hers made her read the script again! Otherwise, Kimmy would probably be holed up in some cheap motel in Florida by now. Just one favor, though, dear reader. These secrets stay here on these pages. Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.

Okay, so Kim Basinger’s sudden reemergence in the Hollywood hype-o-drome after a three-year absence might not exactly warrant the caught-you-with-your-pants-down tone Sid Hudgens (played by Danny DeVito) uses in Hush Hush, the scandal sheet at the center of L.A. Confidential.

But it’s still headline news when an actress who (you will remember) was once among the most mocked women in Hollywood is suddenly being treated with something that looks dangerously like respect. Even she seems surprised at the acclaim that’s greeted her since L.A. Confidential‘s premiere at Cannes, where she and Hanson received an ovation that she calls ”one of life’s precious moments…. The only thing I can say about my life these days,” Basinger says, with a great big laugh, ”is that I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone.”

Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo

Basinger’s smoldering, knowing turn as Lynn Bracken, a high-priced prostitute who makes herself over to resemble the actress Veronica Lake, has been singled out by critics as one of the most surefooted female performances of the busy fall movie season.

Critics aren’t alone. ”I was flabbergasted by her performance,” says novelist Ellroy. ”Kim became the character I had written in my head. She seduced me completely, and I swear, I’m entirely in the erotic thrall of my wife.”

”She blew me away,” adds costar Russell Crowe, who plays brutish cop Bud White. ”In one scene, I needed to slap her, and she wanted me to make contact. It was scary for me, but I remember thinking ‘Wow, this woman has the real stuff.”’

Meanwhile, Basinger, who’s better known for being force-fed by Mickey Rourke for 9 1/2 Weeks and playing hormonally correct characters like Honey Hornee in Wayne’s World 2 and Holli Would in Cool World, is enjoying every minute. ”It’s great to be in a movie,” she says, ”where people come up to me and say something besides ‘Uh, what were you thinking?”’