MOVIE REVIEW : The Stork Visits, Dad Flies Off the Handle : Comedy ‘Nine Months’ Features Hugh Grant as a Most Reluctant Parent

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Recent events notwithstanding, the biggest threat to Hugh Grant’s career is not his vice arrest but the indifferent performance of forgettable material. Films like “Nine Months” can kill a career faster than the tabloids.

The story of one man’s resistance to becoming a father, the nominally comic “Nine Months” is the latest effort from writer-director-producer Chris Columbus, the boy conglomerate best known as the director of “Home Alone,” a film that looks cutting-edge compared to this predigested pap.

Only 35, Columbus is turning into the youngest business-as-usual filmmaker in the business, with an unerring instinct for the predictable and the hackneyed. Though his films (including “Mrs. Doubtfire”) are such consistent moneymakers that the press kit trumpets Columbus as “the fifth most successful motion picture director of all time,” they are not going to win any awards for originality. Nor, apparently, do they particularly want to.


Set in San Francisco, “Nine Months” (based on the French film “Neuf Mois”) posits a familiar situation. Rebecca Taylor (Julianne Moore) and Samuel Faulkner (Grant) have spent five wonderful years together, but the over-30 Rebecca feels something is missing from her life, and it’s not the heartbreak of psoriasis.

No, Rebecca wants a family, but Samuel, who just happens to be a child psychotherapist, is horrified at the thought. “Why change what’s perfect?” he asks, an attitude that is intensified by a random encounter with a family of breeders, Marty and Gail Dwyer (Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack) and their trio of out-of-control monster children.

But guess what? Rebecca accidentally gets pregnant and, guess again, Samuel is not overjoyed. What, sell his red Porsche convertible for a family car? In fact, Samuel so strenuously resists fatherhood that Rebecca starts to question whether this indeed is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. And so on.

Though Columbus says he likes to mix comedy with emotion, there is little enough of either here, and no real story to speak of, witness the film’s culmination in a particularly leaden farce in a hospital delivery room. Though he is a sincere director who has the commercially enviable knack of embracing tired contrivance as if it were fresh invention, making things believable and moving is not, at least at this point in his career, one of Columbus’ strengths.

Not benefiting from his direction is Grant, who gives a performance that doesn’t edge into self-parody, it embraces it wholeheartedly. Rather than act, Grant has chosen the easier path of immersion in a sea of movie star mannerisms: He winks, raises his eyebrows, flutters his lids, fools with his hair, rubs his nose, forces a grin and then starts over again.

If Grant is victimized by doing too much, Moore is handicapped by having too little to do. After her impressive work in “Vanya on 42nd Street” and the current “Safe,” watching her trying to cope with this film’s lightweight dialogue and situations is like watching Michael Jordan trying to fit himself into a schoolyard pickup game. While it is gratifying to see such a gifted actress getting a commercial payday, it’s too bad it had to be this one.


As for Arnold and Cusack, perhaps it’s enough to say that both have done better work elsewhere. And their jobs are not made any easier by the peculiar burden of their characters, which are written to be half comic grotesques and half sensitive role models who teach silly Samuel that having children can be more satisfying than that red Porsche convertible. In case you had any doubts.

Coming off best are a pair of sidemen who are allowed to mostly concentrate on being funny. Robin Williams adds a welcome note of pure anarchy as Dr. Kosevich, newly arrived from the former Soviet Union and not used to human patients. And Jeff Goldblum, looking surprisingly muscular with a cute earring, makes a strong impression as Samuel’s best friend and confidant.

Though it strives to be clever, the only time “Nine Months” manages to be genuinely witty is in its closing credits, when it displays baby pictures of its stars. It’s a small touch but it’s not overdone, which is probably why it provides such a contrast with its surroundings.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for language and sexual innuendoes. Times guidelines: some mildly blue language, a brief striptease and a giant praying mantis ravenous after sex.


‘Nine Months’

Hugh Grant: Samuel Faulkner Julianne Moore: Rebecca Taylor Tom Arnold: Marty Dwyer Joan Cusack: Gail Dwyer Jeff Goldblum: Sean Fletcher Robin Williams: Dr. Kosevich A 1492 Picture, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Chris Columbus. Producers Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan. Executive producers Joan Bradshaw, Christopher Lambert. Screenplay by Columbus, based on the film “Neuf Mois,” written by Patrick Braoude. Cinematographer Donald McAlpine. Editor Raja Gosnell. Costumes Jay Hurley. Music Hans Zimmer. Production design Angelo P. Graham. Art director W. Steven Graham. Set decorator Garrett Lewis. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.