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Meg to Differ: Meg Ryan plays against chipper type as a woman drawn to the seediest sides of Manhattan in Jane Campion's 'In the Cut.'


Meg Ryan trolls the mean streets of the Big Apple in Jane Campion's thriller 'In the Cut'

By Richard von Busack

IT'S A MOVIE for angry women, In the Cut, and that's not a put-down. Just think how well the market of films for angry men is served. The thriller by Jane Campion (The Piano) stars Meg Ryan as Frannie, a writer and part-time teacher south of Houston in Manhattan. She has a sloppy love life, having just dropped a man. John (Kevin Bacon), the spurned ex-lover, keeps turning up with an emblematic dog under his arm: it's one of that ratlike breed that always takes the blue ribbon in the ugly-dog competition. When not busy avoiding him and men like him, Frannie's avocation is creating a dictionary of slang. To add words to it, she interviews a troubled student who's obsessed with one aspect of the John Wayne Gacey case: the fact that Gacey claimed not to be able to remember any of the killings. Among this city full of perilous people, Frannie has only one close friend: her half-sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

A ripper murderer is at large. He has left parts of his victim's body in the yard next to Frannie's apartment. Trying to find the killer, NYPD detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) enters Frannie's life, and before long the two end up in bed. But some doubt begins to creep into Frannie's mind as to whether Malloy might be the killer.

Sound hackneyed? Some will find it so, will find In the Cut unbearably artsy and will call Ryan mean and hardbitten. But I disliked Ryan intensely in her most popular roles, during which she gave one Xerox-like repetition after another of the role of a mop-headed stuffed toy. (Is that the reason "Que Sera Sera," Doris Day's signature tune, is on the titles? Wasn't Ryan the, well, Day of her day?) In the Cut is Ryan's first interesting movie, the first time she's ever shown serious resentment or believable sexuality. The orgasm her Frannie has here makes up for that famous faked one in When Harry Met Sally--a supposedly comic incident that summed up the coy attitude toward sex in Hollywood movies from then until now.

On one level, In the Cut is a potboiler, with an ancient adult thriller plot about as distinguished as any 3am Showtime offering. On another, it's a unique, disturbing view of New York. The film's Manhattan is akin to David Fincher's cities of dreadful night in Se7en and Fight Club, but it's shot through with a sexy, florid and nervy streak that's all Campion's own. The word used here is "disarticulated," cop language for the condition of a dismembered body. Campion's view of NYC is "disarticulated," too. Ruffalo's Malloy isn't just hard-boiled, but guttery and troubled. He may be rough-hewn, or he may be genuine rough trade. Pauline's apartment seems to leak into a topless bar downstairs, or the other way around. Campion's entire city has boundary issues. In the Cut is too weird to be a hit--I'd say "too ghastly," but Leatherface is currently America's No. 1 box-office star, so ... Anyway, there's something intoxicating about In the Cut. The atmosphere of unsettled grudges and betrayal is so convincing that it's easy to believe anyone in it could be a murderer.

In the Cut (R; 118 min.), directed by Jane Campion, written by Susanna Moore and Campion, photographed by Don Beebe and starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the October 30-November 5, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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