Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's the deal with Basic Instinct?

A few days back I found myself re-watching "Basic Instinct"; the commercial zenith of what I like to consider, my all time favorite director, Paul Verhoeven's classic "American films period". While watching this iconic cornerstone of 90s pop culture, I suddenly noticed for the first time an unexpected connection with another 90's cultural touchstone: "Seinfeld".

I discovered no less than 5 actors in the film who have later on appeared on the series. This interesting collection of connected character actors ranged from the extremely obvious to the trivially obscure. I guess it shouldn't be all that shocking with a long running series with the large and diverse cast of supporting characters and one off guest actors (the list of women playing Jerry's weekly girlfriends alone is a varied who's who of notable 90s ladies from metal babe Tawny Kitaen to pre-fame Courtney Cox to the ever mousy Jeanine Garofalo) like"Seinfeld"; similarly there may be a flick out there with 6 eventual guest actors on "Friends". However, for now, I have yet to notice any such coincidences.

I guess I should mention that the list below probably contains some moderate spoilage for anyone who hasn't seen "Basic Instinct" (and I guess to a far lesser extent certain episodes of "Seinfeld"). Also for those people who haven't seen "Basic Instinct" yet: shame on you; it is one of the great cinematic documents of the fascinating,wild, confusing times of the early 90s, as the decade tried to forge itself a new identity separate from the 80s. In addition, for all those eternally teased by "Big Love", you actually get to see Jeanne Tripplehorn naked (and about 15 years younger). How can you lose?

Wayne Knight
"Newman"
This is the obvious one everybody remembers, and what I thought until recently was the only Seinfeld cast member in the film. Aside from his reoccurring role of Jerry's antagonist Newman, this is the most memorable Wayne Knight role (just edging out his evil Dennis Nedry role in Jurassic Park). That uncomfortable, fat, sweaty scene of him along with the other detectives interrogating Sharon Stone will (for better or for worse) be forever linked to the movie's infamous beaver shot.

Daniel von Bargen
"Mr. Kruger"
Prolific character actor Daniel von Bargen played Det. Nielson, the asshole Internal Affairs detective that had it out for Michael Douglas's character. He later gets murdered and everyone suspects Douglas did it. Of course I will always remember him as George's idiot boss Mr. Kruger. Every one of his four guest appearances was a home run. This is further supported by the fact that every one of his episodes made it onto Andrew U's definitive top 50 George moments: "The Slicer"(#43), "The Maid"(#39), "The Burning" (#28), "The Strike"(#23). Personally, my dream job scenario would be working for a boss as clueless and utterly negligent about the quality of my work as Kruger.

James Rebhorn
"D.A. Hoyt"

It was really no shocker when I noticed Hall of Fame "That Guy" James Rebhorn was in both "Basic Instinct" and "Seinfeld", he's basically been in every movie and television series for the last 25 years. Look up "douchey, white collar, antagonist in suit" in the dictionary and you get James Rebhorn. In "Basic Instinct" he played the only mildly douchey Dr. McElwaine, a police psychologist who questions Michael Douglas's guilt after the above Det. Nielson is found dead. On the TV side, Rebhorn played the pivotal role of the prosecuting D.A. who puts Jerry and the gang in prison for violating a good Samaritan law on the two part series finale of the show. Douchey indeed.

Stephen Tobolowsky
"Tor Eckman"
Another giant among "That Guy" character actors, Stephen Tobolowsky has cornered the market on playing bespectacled, dorky, clueless, losers. The man's got so many memorable one shot characters from Bridget Fonda's sleazy boss in "Single White Female", Ned Ryerson in "Groundhogs Day", to the flashback of Sammy Jankis in "Memento". For me the quintessential "Tobolowsky character" and everything he embodies can be summed up in that scene at the end of the trailer for "Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde" ("Mr. Monkey wants to play"). In "Basic Instinct" be plays exactly to his egghead type as a special criminal profiler who is brought into hypothesize on the identity of the ice pick killer, much to everyone's annoyance. His "Seinfeld" character was as the holistic healer who George goes to after suffering what he thought was a heart attack. Interestingly, it's a little against the usual type for him as he's more of a goofy (non-bespectacled) hippie than the usual nerdish figure.

Jack McGee
"Ralph"
I claim no credit (nor do I really want to) for being as astute and extensive a "Seinfeld" fan to have noticed Jack McGee. I ended up learning about his credits when I was on IMDB trying to verify if Tobolowsky was actually in the "Heart Attack" episode. His role in "Basic Instinct" is just listed as "Sheriff" so I'm not actually sure where he came in. I think he was the random police officer (or I guess sheriff) at the end of the film that gives the main detectives more evidence that all the murders may have been masterminded by Jeanne Tripplehorn. His role in Seinfeld is equally juicy, as he plays "Ralph" (at least he had a name in this one), the surly construction worker that George borrows the jackhammer from to rescue his buried Phil Rizzuto keychain from a filled in pothole (in the aptly titled episode "The Pothole").

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