'Nine Months' with cute Grant: purely physical

July 12, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Here are the top 10 reasons why Hugh Grant chose to make his first after-the-fall appearance on Jay and not Dave.

10. He knew he'd be funnier than Jay. (He was.)

9. He knew he'd follow some stupid Leno comedy bit. (He did.)

8. He knew Jay would fawn like a dog in heat. (Jay did.)

L 7. He knew Dave would introduce him as a Stupid Human Trick.

6. He was frightened that Dave's mom would tell him what she really thought of him.

5. He was afraid Paul would snub him.

4. Two words: Lewd conduct.

3. He was afraid Rudy Giuliani would come on and say, "Our city's prostitutes can kick your city's prostitutes' butts!"

2. He was afraid of a skit where Divine Brown would be played by Tony Randall.

1. He knew the movie he was publicizing was for Jay's audience, not Dave's, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

About the movie: "Nine Months" is crude, almost to the point of primitiveness. It's not about anything so much as its star's annoying vocabulary of facial gymnastics. In fact, Hugh Grant's face is a far more terrifying movie monster than anything in

"Species"; he winks, he flinches, he gibbers, he double-takes, he flips his hair out of his eyes, he goes wide-eyed and slack-jawed with befuddlement, he squinches up in childish rage. The face, the face . . it's so Godawful . . . cute I couldn't stand it. Whatever happened to British understatement?

Admittedly, Grant has a problem. In "Four Weddings and a Funeral," he didn't have to mug like Bozo the Clown on crank because the script itself was funny and beautifully structured. He had to act, which he's quite good at. In "Nine Months," by contrast, there's hardly any script at all, the repartee is so lame it puts you to sleep, and if Grant isn't re-fighting the Battle of Borodino between his jowls and his hairline, or bashing himself into the nearest wall, then nothing is going on.

Grant is offered as a yuppie with the perfect life. He's a San Francisco child psychologist (with no apparent empathy for children, one of the movie's many sloppy details) who drives a bright red Porsche convertible and lives with and loves a beautiful red-headed girlfriend (Julianne Moore). They drink from expensive wine bottles carried in wicker baskets and eat caviar on imported crackers. They know the difference between kinds of forks, composers, vintages and stereo components. A decorator did their apartment. It overlooks a bay. Clearly, these people must be destroyed.

Hughie-Dewie sits on a wall, Hughie-Dewie has a great fall -- his girlfriend gets preggers.

The movie then recounts his coming to terms with the approaching event. But it can find no internal way of expressing the doubt a man -- particularly a selfish one -- feels with the approach of fatherhood. Everything is externalized into slapstick; there's no sense of any of these characters having an inner life. They -- Grant in particular -- just bump into things when the plot flags.

The movie takes the couple through quite an arc -- anger, bitterness, breakup, reconciliation, commitment and ultimately childbirth. But nothing is felt, it's only represented in broad physical shtick, occasionally funny but of so similar a tone that it grows tedious.

Moore is also a problem. She's a brilliant actress, as she showed in "Vanya on 42d Street" and "Short Cuts," but in a conventional movie-chick role, she disappears. She needs an edgy character to register; any Hollywood lollipop could have played this non-role without affecting it one way or the other, though I will admit the prospects of combining Meg Ryan and Hugh Grant, with all that combustible cuteness, are quite frightening.

Robin Williams comes in, and at least when his face is going nuts you forget about Hugh's face, but the part is really just an auxiliary rocket blast of comic energy that has nothing to do with the plot proper. Williams plays a Russian gynecologist who has never delivered a human baby before and somehow ends up in the stirrup room and the delivery room with Grant and Moore.

Chris Columbus has written and directed a number of films like this before, "Mrs. Doubtfire" being the most recent. They're usually big hits because he has the sure touch of a popular entertainer. But at the same time they're dispiriting in the way a great popular entertainer, like a Spielberg, never is. That's because they're so empty and aimed so low.

As for Grant, he'd better find a script with less bump and more bite or he'll be the next Dudley Moore, a Brit who had such gifts but squandered them to be cuddly for the colonies.

'NINE MONTHS'

Starring Hugh Grant, Julianne Moore and Robin Williams

Directed by Chris Columbus

Rated PG-13 (sexual situations)

** 1/2

SPEAKING OF HUGH

To hear excerpts of actor Hugh Grant's "apology tour" of TV talk shows, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6147.

*

Hugh Grant continues his media blitz:

* 9 p.m. today: "Larry King Live" on CNN

* 7 a.m. Friday: "Today Show" on NBC (Channel 11)

* 9 a.m. Friday: "Regis & Kathie Lee" on NBC

* 11:35 p.m. July 19: "Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS (Channel 13)

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