- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

“In the Cut,” Jane Campion’s adaptation of Susanna Moore’s erotic novel, is many things to many people.

It’s first and foremost a New Yorker’s movie. Lower Manhattan, from the alleys of TriBeCa to the cafes and bars of the East Village, is a central character.

“Cut” is also a photographer’s movie; every set piece is vivid with color and artiness.

For Meg Ryan, who plays against type as a frumpy teacher, “Cut” is Oscar bait. Gone is the spunky bottle-blond starlet of “Top Gun” and the romantic Everywoman of “When Harry Met Sally” or “Sleepless in Seattle.”

This Miss Ryan is all edge, repressed eroticism and pining flesh, of which she bares nearly all.

What “In the Cut” isn’t is a great movie.

Miss Campion, known best for “The Piano” and “The Portrait of a Lady,” attempts to glue a procedural murder mystery to a supercharged psychosexual thriller. (The notorious “Basic Instinct” tried the same thing to much greater success.)

“Cut,” like a slow-moving car whose driver is lost and peering at house numbers, flounders between genres and ends flaccidly with a whodunit conventionality.

Miss Ryan’s Frannie is pensive, introverted and highly sensitive to the aesthetics of language, and she teaches English to mostly uninterested high-schoolers — except for one, Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh), who has a modest talent for writing and an eccentric interest in serial killers.

Cornelius is among several men whom Miss Campion and Miss Moore (the pair co-wrote the screenplay) subtly implicate in a string of grisly murders.

The lead investigator on the case, Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo, in gumshoe mustache and New York accent), cajoles the desperate Frannie into a sweaty affair but sports a distinctive tattoo that she swears she spotted on a man last seen receiving oral sex from one of the victims, part of whom was found in Frannie’s garden.

Add the (perhaps) deceptively meek Frannie, who often flashes back to a weirdly violent sepia-toned fantasy of her parents meeting for the first time, to the list of possible perps.

Popping into the action in well-placed moments is Frannie’s twitchy ex-boyfriend (Kevin Bacon), a medical student with a stalking obsession and a mangy dog.

Malloy’s partner, Detective Rodriguez (Nick Damici), recently stripped of gun-carrying privileges because of temper flare-ups, is also in play.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is underused as Frannie’s languidly promiscuous half-sister Pauline, who is very definitely not implicated in the murders.

This all adds up to: not very much. Nothing you haven’t seen before, at any rate.

What Miss Campion wanted was to make an impressionistic movie about sex and violence and repression and reptilian impulse; her source material gave her all these things, but she and Miss Moore compromised the novel’s electricity for concrete Hollywood formula.

It’s back to the drawing board for the Oscar-less Meg Ryan.

**

TITLE: “In the Cut”

RATING: R (Strong sexuality, including explicit dialogue and nudity; graphic crime scenes; profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Jane Campion. Produced by Nicole Kidman and Laurie Parker. Written by Miss Campion and Susanna Moore, based on Miss Moore’s novel of the same name. Cinematography by Dion Beebe. Original music by Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson.

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS.

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