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Thriller framework is 'In The Cut's' weakest element

| Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

When Diane Keaton landed the role of Theresa in Richard Brooks' film of Judith Rossner's best seller "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" (1977), there was no doubt Keaton would be flirting with an Oscar.

And yes, she got one, but it was for her other notable role that year, as the title character in the much more popular "Annie Hall." Beyond its thriller components, "Goodbar" seemed to unsettle its adult audience to an undesirable degree with its tale of a well-brought-up teacher of deaf children who becomes drawn to the seamiest side of the bar life.

"In the Cut" will have that trouble.

Earmarked as a vehicle for co-producer Nicole Kidman, it stars instead Meg Ryan in an atypical turn as a nice lady who succumbs to libidinous urges and unnecessary risks beyond the point where audiences will tag along enthusiastically.

Sans her cute, perky affectations, Ryan acts Frannie Avery, a Manhattan-based English teacher researching New York slang, mainly through one of her black students, Cornelius Webb (Sharrieff Pugh).

Her lack of discretion in selecting one of her own pupils compounds when they rendezvous in a bar and he treats her with a disrespectful edge.

Beyond reason, and despite just having left home, she ventures down to the bar's basement restroom, which is pitch black and possibly rat infested, and observes fellatio between a couple she can barely see.

When the female involved is murdered overnight, Frannie develops an erotic interest in the investigator, Det. Giovanni Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), seeming intrigued by his casual crudeness and provocative availability.

His homophobic detective partner, Rodriguez (Nick Damici), isn't even allowed to carry a gun for reasons Malloy dismisses.

Frannie is being stalked by John (an unbilled Kevin Bacon), a neurotic, insinuating actor-turned-medical student with whom she had a one-nighter.

Despite all of her Ryan-like appeal, Frannie's only friend appears to be her slatternly half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who might as well have "prospective murder victim" tattooed on her forehead.

Director Jane Campion ("The Piano," "Portrait of a Lady") co-wrote the "In the Cut" screenplay with Susanna Moore, who wrote the novel.

Although they use a murder-mystery framework, it's the film's weakest component -- one dispatched so perfunctorily at the end that thriller fans will leave unsatisfied.

The film is much more interested in Frannie's exploration of things foreign to her native sensibility -- slang, men from backgrounds unlike her own -- and of her own fatalism.

"In the Cut" begins with the song "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" and sepia images of a temporarily unidentified couple ice skating.

Frannie teaches Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse," in which a repressed woman painter finally achieves her vision. The film of "In the Cut" stretches uncomfortably to place Frannie at a lighthouse at the climax.

It succeeds most in Frannie's injudicious intimacy with a cop for whom she might represent no more than the challenge of the moment.

Campion's film is full of sizzling metaphorical heat in a sweaty New York summer. Whether moviegoers can be comfortable watching this particular Frannie -- Ryan's -- court destruction so luridly and recklessly will be a tale told by the box office.

Additional Information:

Movie Details

'In the Cut'

Director : Jane Campion

Stars : Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh

MPAA rating : R for strong sexuality including explicit dialogue, nudity, graphic crime scenes and language

stars

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