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In the Cut

With psycho-killer crap all over the multiplex, director Jane Campion (The Piano) gets props just for trying something as erotically and emotionally ambitious as In the Cut. Susanna Moore’s 1995 novel about a New York teacher pursued by a serial killer has a hallucinatory quality that Campion tries to replicate. It’s a tricky business.

Meg Ryan, effectively snuffing her natural comic gleam, plays Frannie Avery, a teacher with a half sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose sluttiness only emphasizes Frannie’s repressive nature. At a bar, Frannie sees a man in the shadows getting a blow job from a woman who later turns up dead. She remembers that the man had a tattoo on his wrist but doesn’t tell Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), because he has the same tattoo. Instead, she falls under the cop’s sexual thrall.

Much has been made of the nudity in the film and the heat generated by Ryan and Ruffalo. “Some women,” Malloy tells Frannie, “have no sense of the cock.” And some movies have no sense of how to merge a book’s surface with its subtext. Campion and Ryan — at her most courageous — want to get inside the head of a woman who falls in love with sex and death and begins to equate the two. What kills the effect, besides an ending disastrously changed from the book, are the cop-flick cliches that work against the film’s higher aspirations. The result, sadly, is a mess.

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