By Owen Gleiberman
February 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

When you consider the ludicrously single-minded value our culture places on physical perfection, we don’t, in the end, treat our sex goddesses very nicely. Sharon Stone was martyred by the very moment that made her a movie star: her leg-uncrossing interrogation tease in Basic Instinct, a spectacular porno epiphany that sold the movie yet, at the same time, cut her off from respectability. She has, in essence, been apologizing for that transgression ever since, going so far as to deny that she had any idea she’d even been photographed in her natural glory. (As if.) Stone’s ultimate punishment is that she’s a luscious glamour queen in a society that ghettoizes eroticism. Basic Instinct was a piece of exploitation-age Hitchcock, and in the years since I’ve often wondered what the Master himself would have done with Stone. There’s every chance that he might have fashioned her into a haughtier Grace Kelly — a regal dominatrix, seducing the life out of men with vixenish elegance. Instead, her movies have ended up punishing her for her sensual bravado.

Stone’s latest penance is Gloria, the Sidney Lumet-directed dud that sprung from the singularly bad idea of remaking John Cassavetes’ oddball 1980 character study. I mean, really, did anyone even like the original? As Gloria, a ballsy New Yawk chick who gets out of prison after having taken the rap for her gangster boyfriend (Jeremy Northam), Stone struts around on strappy four-inch heels like an angry show horse, barking out insults, her face a mask of petulant distrust. Gloria, who has spent her life putting out for men, realizes that if she keeps doing so, she might as well be back in prison. You can see what Stone is up to; she plays the tough-as-leather desperation of a no-longer-young sexpot with fierce, unyielding conviction. Yet she’s anchored to a movie that doesn’t know what the hell to do with her.

Gloria escapes her thug lover’s lair with an angel-faced 6-year-old, Nicky (Jean-Luke Figueroa), whose family has been slaughtered by the thug’s henchman. Protecting the kid is supposed to bring out Gloria’s lost ”maternal” side, and if that weren’t already a boring enough notion to hang a movie on, the maternalization of Sharon Stone (which we also saw in last year’s The Mighty) is the sort of useless sentimental concept that only a Hollywood that has forgotten how to entertain grown-ups could have come up with. We already have enough stepmoms, thank you, and enough ”pretty women” as well. Where’s the filmmaker who could team up with Stone and actually have the audacity to imagine a dangerous babe with feeling? C

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