Critics may as well pen reviews of Jane Campion’s new film in disappearing ink. The movie will be forgotten before most of them are ever read.
Where to begin and why even bother? Because Campion directed The Piano once upon a time I suppose and so the disintegration of her talent has significance to the world of cinema. And because the picture stars Meg Ryan, who was for a time America’s Sweetheart. If nothing else, “In The Cut” offers a lesson in how far the mighty cute can fall and how low some will go to reclaim their place at the top.
The actress gives a dazed, emotionally out of focus performance in the role of a New York high school teacher who needs the help of a good guidance counselor more desperately than any of her inner city students do. The film adapts Susanna Moore’s novella about a young woman drawn into a dark, dangerous sexual underworld. For no reason either conceivable or clarified by the script, Frannie Avery thinks nothing of holding an afterschool conference with a male student in a dingy bar, has reason to suspect a detective played by Mark Ruffalo may be the serial killer terrorizing her neighborhood but decides to date him anyway and doesn’t think to ask a tightly wound Kevin Bacon to return the key to her apartment she gave him even though she’s this close to getting a restraining order against the guy.
One typical edge-dwelling afternoon, the educational professional wanders into the luridly lit basement of a club and happens upon a man and woman in the process of a sexual act. The woman, she notes, has long blue fingernails. The man, an unusual tattoo. Shortly thereafter it comes to her attention that a murder victim had blue fingernails and that Ryan’s new boyfriend, who’s investigating the crime, has the same tattoo on exactly the same part of his body.
A lot of women would think relationship red flag. Ryan’s character thinks what a perfect time for a kinky, R-rated romp.
Which brings us to the sorry spectacle of the actress lately doing the shmooze circuit and making a point at every turn of alerting potential ticket buyers to the fact that she’ll be appearing nude in Campion’s “erotic thriller.” And not just nude but nuder than ever. Shockingly, unbelievably, naughtily nude. In addition to being pathetic and, let’s face it, sleazy, it should be noted that this is also factually inaccurate. The nudity is brief and partial, the sex as steamy as day old rice and there isn’t a thrill to be found within a mile of this film.
Though there are laughs aplenty. I’ve seen Stooges episodes in which less goofball stuff happens. My favorite is probably the sequence in which Ryan gets into the car driven by Ruffalo and his partner though they’re both virtual strangers. She winds up at a seedy bar with them (doesn’t this woman have homework to grade?) and the two guys begin making disgusting comments of a sexual nature prompting her to leave. Outside, she attempts to flag down a cab. We see one-just one-woosh by. The next thing we see is Ryan walking home across town by herself late at night through deserted, garbage-strewn back alleys. Then she’s surprised when she gets mugged. With people like this teaching our kids, is it any wonder they’re falling behind the rest of the world?
There’s a subplot involving a half sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who lives over a strip club. It’s easy to believe she’s related to Ryan since she manages to be surprised that noise from the joint can make it hard to sleep. There are arty shots of New York City’s grungier spots. And, to remind us that this is a Hollywood drama and not late night cable porn, there are severed limbs and bloody heads in plastic bags. Most of all, though, there is the dull tango danced by Ryan and Ruffalo: Is he the killer? Will she be the next to die? Is there any reason we should care?
In the end, not really. Campion and company may like to think they’ve made something provocative, moody and new but it’s really just “Looking For Mr. Goodbar” with extra nuts.
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