Dressed-up Ricci has nowhere to go in 'Miranda''


Monday February 11, 1:10 PM

Dressed-up Ricci has nowhere to go in ``Miranda''

Miranda (Romantic fantasy, U.K., color, no rating, 1:32)

By Todd McCarthy, Variety Chief Film Critic

PARK CITY, Utah (Variety) - A stylized romantic fantasy populated mainly by harsh denizens of a corrupt business world, ``Miranda'' makes so many strange left turns that it becomes hopelessly mired in maze of its own making.

This half-artsy, half-mainstream effort about a geeky Yorkshire library receptionist who becomes infatuated with a hard-edged American mystery woman has talent and appeal poking out here and there, but is swamped by its multiplying implausibilities and absurdities. Commercial prospects are slight for this British Christina Ricci starrer.

The one thing the film does offer -- and it must have been what attracted the actress to it -- is the opportunity for Ricci to strut her stuff. With seemingly dozens of exotic costume changes, different hairstyles and even an alteration of eye color summoning up the title character's numerous guises, Ricci is every inch the diva here. Unfortunately, what surrounds her, dramatically and physically, is murky at best, with whatever slender good will it generates at first is long since used up by the time of the nonsensical and overwrought climax.

Frank (John Simm) is gobsmacked from the moment he lays eyes on the vampy babe who comes striding by his desk one day. Mild-mannered and naive but spirited enough to chat her up, Frank manages to get a date and instantly pronounces her both his ``Virgin Mary'' and his ``American Dream.'' Clearly way out of Frank's league, tough-beyond-her-years Miranda doesn't tell the young man what she's up to -- engineering a real estate scam involving the about-to-be-demolished library -- but eventually spends the night at Fred's modest flat, with unexpectedly torrid results.

Miranda's momentary sweetness and vulnerability, revealing a scarred youth that obviously made her grow up too fast, prompts the gullible Frank to gush that he loves her, which in turn brings act one to a close with Miranda slipping out on Frank and returning ``home'' to her mentor, Christian (John Hurt), a cagey old operator who's pulling the shady business strings.

Marginally promising setup is very quickly dashed, however, when the action moves to London, where Miranda's next target is Nailor (Kyle MacLachlan), a twisted tycoon with a kinky obsession for her. Getting way out of his depth, Frank follows his inamorata to the big city, making him fair game for Nailor and his goon (Matthew Marsh), and something of an annoyance to Miranda, who has refurbished her looks and tries to convince Frank to go while the getting's good.

Naturally, he doesn't listen to reason, and pic goes thoroughly off the rails in the home stretch. Frank's ungainly puppy love and foolish heroics mesh badly with Nailor's completely unconvincing dementia and faux threats, creating an unpleasant sense of dramatic chaos and a total loss of character plausibility. A ludicrous ``action'' climax merely seals the deal.

The occasional mild audacities of playwright Rob Young's initial produced screenplay are negatively offset by the lack of integrity supplied to the characters and incidents. Same can be said of the efforts of first-time feature director Marc Munden, a TV vet (''Vanity Fair,'' ``Touching Evil'') who fails to impose a consistent tone or make the viewer buy into the far-fetched idea that the wildly different Frank and Miranda are somehow meant for each other.

The elaborately decked-out Ricci is wonderful to behold, but her part really never gets beyond surfaces. Simm makes a modestly sympathetic impression as the young bloke who tries to pin down the elusive Miranda, while MacLachlan here graduates to something akin to his old co-star Dennis Hopper's role in ``Blue Velvet,'' to significantly lesser effect.

Tech are generally sharp, including Ben Davis' well-composed widescreen lensing and composer Murray Gold's hefty musical contribution.

Miranda ...... Christina Ricci

Frank ........ John Simm

Nailor ....... Kyle MacLachlan

Christian .... John Hurt

Rod .......... Julian Rhind-Tutt

Gerry ........ Cavan Clerkin

Charles ...... Matthew Marsh

A FilmFour Ltd. release (in U.K.) of a FilmFour presentation with Film Council and Senator Film of a Feelgood Films production. (International sales: FilmFour Intl., London.) Produced by Laurence Bowen. Executive producers, Philip Clarke, Hanno Huth, Robert Jones, Paul Webster. Co-producer, Elinor Day.

Directed by Marc Munden. Screenplay, Rob Young. Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Ben Davis; editor, Bill Diver; music, Murray Gold; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher; production designer, Alice Normington; art director, Tim Ellis; set decorator, Barbra Herman-Skelding; costume designer, Michele Clapton; sound (Dolby Digital), Bruce Wills; supervising sound editor, Simion Gershon; line producer, Mark Hubbard; assistant director, Stephen Woolfenden; second unit camera, Steve Parker; casting, Kate Rhodes James. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema), Jan. 18, 2002.

Reuters/Variety REUTERS