NYC High School teacher Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan) meets a student, Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh, "Copland"), in a bar to get tips on Black (mostly sexual) slang for a book she's working on. Making her way down to the basement restrooms she spies a man with a three of spades tattoo on his wrist being orally pleasured by a woman with long, blue fingernails. She stands in the shadows to watch. The next day, Frannie receives a visit from homicide Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo, "My Life Without Me"), investigating the murder of Angela Sands, whose head was found in the garden beneath Frannie's window. An erotic charge passes between the two, but their relationship begins with a lie when Frannie does not admit to having gone downstairs the day before to the cop with the three of spades emblazoned on his wrist in cowriter (with novelist Susanna Moore)/director Jane Campion's ("Holy Smoke") "In the Cut."
Arriving on a wave of publicity because of Ryan's first nude appearance in steamy sex scenes with costar Ruffalo, "In the Cut" offers nothing more except for a fabulous performance by Ruffalo in a thoroughly disastrous film. This movie can only be described as the cheesiest of serial killer beach reads given the gloss of art house pretension.
Campion and Moore offer up a dowdy teacher drawn to a dangerous side of erotica a la "Looking for Mr. Goodbar." Frannie's only close friend is her half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Anniversary Party"), an almost unbalanced unlucky in love type who lives over The Baby Doll Lounge strip club (it is unclear whether she also works there) while yearning for love and marriage. Pauline presents Frannie with a 'courtship fantasy bracelet, with baby carriage and heart charms, the first of countless marital symbols that mount up to increasing silliness. Pauline encourages Frannie to meet Malloy for a date and dolls her up in her own stripper clothes.
Frannie is both excited and shocked by Malloy's frank sexual talk, but when his partner, Detective Rodriguez (Nick Damici), joins them and makes more explicit comments, Frannie quickly departs. She's attacked by a masked man near her home, but escapes. Malloy shows up later and gets Frannie to recreate the crime before the two fall into bed. The next day Frannie's ex, John Graham (Kevin Bacon, "Mystic River"), a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, accosts her outside a cafe. Just to up the suspect quotient, Frannie's student Cornelius shows her his project - a blood-splattered paper defending the innocence of clown killer John Wayne Gacy. As more murders take place, Frannie becomes more convinced that Malloy is the killer.
"In the Cut" slaps its audience with so many shameless red herrings they may begin smelling the aroma of a fish processing plant. In addition to the ludicrousness of the story, whose heroine wears sensible sandals and corduroy skirts while chatting with transvestite strip club bouncers, none of the characters seem capable of speaking to each other with dialogue that remotely sounds real. It's all so much stylized garbage. Campion unwisely repeats her "Portrait of a Lady" insert device - here a period melodrama that looks like Guy Maddin shooting a Hallmark ad - to fill a backstory about Frannie and Pauline's serial bridegroom father's courtship of Frannie's mother on an ice skating pond. (His blade makes the blood red cut for the title sequence and later becomes the weapon that decapitates women in Frannie's nightmares.)
Ryan succeeds in shedding her romantic comedy image, but replaces it with nothing. Her character is a mousy blank, unserved by the story. Jason Leigh fares a little better through force of personality and Pugh has presence as the student with a crush. Bacon is forced to walk city streets in scrubs declaring himself insane and Damici is an oily mix of romance and machismo. Ruffalo gives possibly his best performance, though, in this sorry film. He's exciting and real, with the crime weary sensibilities of a homicide cop making his frank sexual urgency believable.
Technically, the production is given an appropriately edgy, grimy, yet dreamlike feel by director of photography Dion Beebe ("Chicago") and editor Alexandre de Franceschi ("Praise"). Campion uses them best in the before credit title sequence, when Pauline drinks coffee in Frannie's garden as petals swirl down and a neighbor performs Tai Chi all accompanied by an atonal cover of 'Que Sera Sera.' Unfortunately, it is all downhill from here.
Fran (Meg Ryan) is a lonely high school teacher who lives above a strip joint in a seedy part of Manhattan. One of the girls who work downstairs is brutally murdered and police detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) is on the investigation. He questions Fran to find out if she saw anything that would help him with the case but soon becomes interested in her in a more personal way. But, there is a madman operating in the neighborhood and another body soon turns up in Jane Campion’s “In the Cut.”
This latest work by Jane Campion is, in a word, disappointing. The hype over Meg Ryan’s controversial graphic sex scenes has been so strong I think the filmmakers thought that this, alone, would carry the movie. They should have thought about a screenplay, instead. “In the Cut” provides lots of false paths and fake-you-out finger pointing that is confusing and not very interesting as the murder investigation unfolds.
Campion co-wrote the script with the source novel’s author, Susanna Moore. I’m not familiar with Moore’s written work so I can’t judge that but the screenplay is another story. This is one of the most muddled, uninvolving and artificial so-called thrillers that I have seen in a long time. Ryan, who seems to play her character with a vaguely annoyed look under a helmet of mousy brown hair, give the least credible performances of her career. Sure, she shows of her bod but I think she was so concerned with that fact that she forgot to act.
The only glimmer of hope in this tawdry erotic potboiler is the superior (to everything else in the film) performance by Mark Ruffalo as Detective Malloy. I hadn’t liked the actor in his previous films but he pulls off a fully developed character who is, per the filmmakers, also one of the prime suspects in the murder investigation. Kevin Bacon keeps walking in and out of the film as Fran’s ex-boyfriend and, of course, another candidate for the suspect roster. Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Fran’s half sister Pauline, is wasted in a bad role in a bad movie.
“In the Cut” suffers from many things: murky camera work with bad lighting trying to pass for atmosphere; an unrealistic location; unbelievable characters; a murder mystery that does little to mystify; and, a truly horrid performance by Meg Ryan.
I came out of “In the Cut” really ticked off – I wasted hours of my limited lifetime watching a bad movie. I felt like I needed to wash my hands afterwards, too. Mark Ruffalo’s perf pushes this one up a notch, all the way to a D-.
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