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Sexy ‘In the Cut’ doesn’t thrill

Film features Ryan’s first erotic love scenes

“In the Cut” is the cinematic equivalent of coitus interruptus — it ultimately fails to satisfy. But the buildup is indeed hot and heavy, featuring the much-ballyhooed, totally nude Meg Ryan, as far away as physically possible from the effervescent romantic comedy heroines that made her famous. (In case you’re wondering — and you know you are, admit it — she looks fabulous.)

Ryan is back in New York, the site of “You’ve Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally ...,” as a frustrated (and brunette) creative writing teacher, Frannie Avery. But instead of faking an orgasm at Katz’s Deli, she finally gets to have the real thing. (And you’ll want to have what she’s having, again.)

To say that the role is a refreshing change for Ryan would be an understatement; following previous darker roles in “Proof of Life” and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” this is more of a revelation. She and Mark Ruffalo (“You Can Count on Me”), as the he-man homicide detective with whom she has an intense sexual fling, are both outstanding.

But beneath its dense texture and rich mood, Jane Campion’s romantic thriller is about nothing and goes nowhere.

Working from a script she co-wrote with Susanna Moore based on Moore’s best seller, Campion puts you on edge the whole time. This being autumn in New York, the leaves are falling, a crisp wind is blowing, wind chimes are tinkling — something’s going to happen, you can just feel it.

That something is Frannie’s sexual awakening, which makes “In the Cut” sort of a modern-day “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” Campion also has compared the character to Jane Fonda’s prostitute-in-peril in “Klute.”

Shocking for shock's sake
But the film is also reminiscent of “Eyes Wide Shut,” in that every person Frannie encounters is predatory toward her, either in a sexual or violent way — sometimes both, sometimes for apparently no reason. Often these episodes contain an element that seems to be shocking for shock’s sake.

First, there’s Ruffalo’s Detective Molloy, to whom she’s drawn in spite of — or perhaps because of — his crass, blue-collar demeanor. Molloy is investigating a murder that took place outside Frannie’s apartment building, but has no qualms about asking her out for a drink.

“I can be whatever you want me to be,” Molloy moans at the bar during their first date, with unmistakable menace in his voice. Later, their sex is so graphic, it borders on porn, and it’s surprising that the film received just an R rating.

There’s a former boyfriend, John (Kevin Bacon), an actor who stalks her frantically while carrying his canine companion, a Chinese crested.

A student, Cornelius (Sharrief Pugh), also seems to be hitting on her. For no particular reason, he has her meet him to work on an assignment at a seedy bar, where she witnesses a man receiving sexual favors. Cornelius is also obsessed with vindicating serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Then there’s her half-sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who lives above a strip club and with whom she has such an unusually close physical and emotional bond, the suggestion of something more intimate between them is hard to ignore.

As the murders pile up in Frannie’s neighborhood, any or all of these people could be suspects. Red herrings abound.

Then we find out who the killer is — and we’re left to ask, is that all there is?