A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
If there's anything worse than a movie hammered together out of pieces of bad screenplays, it's a movie made from the scraps of good ones. At least with the trash we don't have to suffer through the noble intentions. "Instinct" is a film with not one but four worthy themes. It has pious good thoughts about all of them, but undermines them by slapping on obligatory plot requirements, thick. Nothing happens in this movie that has not been sanctioned by long usage in better films.
This is a film about (1) why Man should learn to live in harmony with nature; (2) why prison reform is necessary; (3) how fathers can learn to love their children; (4) why it is wrong to imprison animals in zoos. It doesn't free the beasts from their cages, but it's able to resolve the other three issues--unconvincingly, in a rush of hokey final scenes. "Instinct," directed by John Turteltaub ("Phenomenon"), is all echoes. It gives us Anthony Hopkins playing a toned-down version of Hannibal Lecter, Cuba Gooding Jr. reprising his nice-guy professional from "As Good as It Gets," Donald Sutherland once again as the wise and weary sage, and John Ashton (you'll recognize him) as a man who is hateful for no better reason than that the plot so desperately needs him to be. Oh, and the settings are borrowed from "Gorillas in the Mist" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The movie's just so darned uplifting and clunky, as it shifts from one of its big themes to another while groaning under the weight of heartfelt speeches. The photography labors to make it look big and important, and the music wants to be sad and uplifting at the same time, as if to say it's a sad world but that's not entirely our fault.
Hopkins stars as Ethan Powell, an anthropologist who went missing in 1994 in an African jungle, and surfaced two years later while murdering two rangers and injuring three others. After a year in chains, he's returned to the United States and locked up in a brutal psycho ward.
His interrogation is set to be conducted by an eminent psychiatrist (Donald Sutherland), who instead assigns his famous prisoner to Theo Caulder (Gooding), a student just completing his final year of residency. Why give this juicy patient to a kid who admits he wants to write a best-seller about him? Because Cuba Gooding is the star of the movie, that's why, and Donald Sutherland, who cannot utter a word that doesn't sound like God's truth, always has to play the expert who waits in an oak-paneled study, passing around epigrams and brandy.