Directed by Jane Campion, starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici and Sharrief Pugh.

Easily one of Hollywood's most annoying actresses of all time, Meg Ryan is nevertheless durable. She annoyed us in the 80s, many times in the 90s, and seems fairly determined to keep it up in whatever this decade is called. Last year's 'Kate and Leopold' was the latest in a long line of winsome and nauseatingly 'nice' performances. Now, however, it seems she might be about to spring a surprise.

Jane Campion's 'In the Cut' sees Ryan play Frannie Avery, a single New York teacher whose independence rages against the loneliness which threatens to sink her. Avery is something of a misfit; intelligent yet naïve, focused yet empty. She comes across as a woman not so much unable to achieve her ambitions, but rather afraid to. Frannie lives vicariously through her sexually adventurous half-sister and confidante Pauline (Jason Leigh); she absorbs the details of Pauline's sex life, and adapts them to fit her mental model of intimacy.

The plot pivots on such an act of intimacy. After Franny inadvertently witnesses a man being fellated in a local bar, she is soon questioned about a murder in the neighbourhood. One of her interrogators is Detective Malloy (Ruffalo), a brooding enigma whose interest in Franny soon sprints beyond the clues she may or may not have to help the murder investigation.

Based on the Susanna Moore novel, 'In the Cut' is dark, and it's dirty. Dimly lit, set in suffocating, squalid surroundings, it's a serial killer flick with its nose cocked permanently in the air. Its interest is not so much on the killer, but rather on the dynamic between Franny and Malloy. And, of course, sex is the focus.

To that extent, 'In the Cut' is often sexually gratuitous, but that's ok because this is Jane Campion so it must be artistic. In fact it's not artistic, it's not erotic, it's simply boring. Very. The New Zealand director has opted to use sex as an instrument of character analysis at the total expense of pacing. But even allowing for the fact that the tempo here will send you off for a few zzzzs, the psychological exploration of the characters is hardly edifying.

Ryan probably deserves a modicum of credit for agreeing to shed her 'nice' image - and her clothes - in what will undoubtedly be seen as a 'risky' endeavour. And yet it all smacks a little too much of desperation, as if stripping in a Jane Campion film will automatically bestow some lofty degree of creative integrity. Really, the only difference here is that she's just rather glum, and obviously the fact that we see a lot more of her.

Ruffalo, although good, looks a little too Village People-ish to convince as a homicide detective. But he's still the best thing about this. Jason Leigh plays her usual oddball character, and an uncredited Kevin Bacon is in the same bracket as a stalking ex-boyfriend who is totally irrelevant to anything.

'In the Cut' pitches itself as an erotic thriller for the art house brigade. Frankly, they're welcome to it.

Tom Grealis