In a just world, Chris Columbus would be sentenced to the Ludovico Technique for Misguided Comedy Directors. Hed be strapped to a chair, his eyes held wide open, and be forced to watch every scrap of film ever made by the Three Stooges. Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute: eye gouging, stomach punching, hand biting, head bashing until, perhaps, the man who made the Home Alone series would be so sickened by witless slapstick that hed never make another movie.
If only he had received such treatment before concocting his latest wonder of physical guffaws, Nine Months. Alas, it is too late. Although he had the raw material for a mature (Dare I say sophisticated?) comedy, Mr. Columbus simply couldnt resist applying his lucrative brick-to-the-head brand of humor, rendering Nine Months just another brainless sit-com for the five-year-old in all of us.
Things start well enough. Hugh Grant plays a dithering, self-centered Yuppie smugly satisfied with his life. Hes got a fabulous girlfriend (Julianne Moore), hes got an amazing San Francisco apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, hes got a high-income practice as a child psychologist and, of course, hes got that ever-present symbol of shallow excess, a Porsche 911 convertible. A giant monkey-wrench is thrown into the works, however, when Moore announces shes pregnant and wants to have the baby.
Grant shrinks in horror, contemplating the changes this will cause in his perfect life, and generally acts like a weasel. He hems, he haws, he dodges and whines. He all but accuses her of setting him up. All this is doubly refreshing in light of the fact that, as recent events have revealed, Hugh Grant is a weasel. Unlike his sweetly engaging screen image, he is perfectly capable of being a superficial pig.
Of course, as Nine Months theme reveals itselfthat having a baby will make you a whole personGrants character rights himself and magically becomes a super-dad: sensitive, caring, responsible and optimistic for the future. But I couldnt help but yearn for more of Grants evil twin. His stuttering, smiling, eyebrow-arching act is starting to wear awfully thin. If hed only permit some of his actual "dark side" into his roles, hed be a much more interesting actor, instead of simply replaying the stammering Brit charmer hes molded himself into. Instead, Nine Months offers us the grand panoply of Grants wacky cartoon facial expressions (Surprise! Fear! Chagrin!) as he Learns His Lesson Well.
To give Columbus credit, before he reaches his inescapable lecture on the joys of parenthood, he does at least temper Nine Months with a little dissension. Jeff Goldblum plays a swinging bachelor friend who defends his personal freedom and actually mentions overpopulation (though by the end he, too, is a convert, sobbing about being alone the day he dies). On the opposite end, Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack play a couple happily enraptured by the joys of having childrenso much so that theyre single-minded goons (though by the end, theyre seen as being naturally wise and giving).
Columbus even conjures some genuinely funny moments. Many of his observations of the dilemmas faced by expectant couples seem on-target. (Sex during pregnancy or no?) And his spearing of that easy target Barney is efficiently done, with Arnold and Grant double-teaming a rude, marketing-obsessed "Arney" with vicious blows from a plastic bat.
But then the ending comes, and along with it that Chris Columbus brand of slapstick genius, entirely ruining what was an inoffensively mediocre film.
As Grant drives his soon-to-pop wife (theyve gotten married, of course) to the hospital, madly careening down San Francisco streets, he: Almost kills an elderly couple! (HAW!) But only manages to induce a heart attack in the old geezer! (HEE HAW!) Then he smashes into a bicyclistfracturing his leg! (YAW HAW HAW!) At the hospital, he sends his pain-wracked wife sailing down a hallway in a runaway wheelchair! (HEE!) And in the operating room, he gets into a fistfight with Tom Arnold as their cussing wives give birth, crashing into all the equipment! (HO HA!)
This isnt slapstick even in the classic sense. This is utterly witless, infantile and pointless. It has no sense of timing, style or innovation. Its just cracking skulls for cheap laughsand the audience I was with roared with appreciation.
Columbus follows up this cartoon violence with manipulative schmaltz that's equally false: back home, late at night, the young father clutches his newborn babe to his chest, swaying to soul music to calm the childs crying as his adoring wife looks on with a beatific gaze.
Yes, life can be just so perfect once you acquiesce to the strictures of biologyand to sit-com plotting.