Movies: The Indiscreet Charm Of Hugh Grant

The issue before us is the nature of Hugh Grant's desire. Why would the man who charmed us in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," who was so sneaking funny in "Bitter Moon," so deft in "Impromptu" and "Maurice," a man who has shown himself to be possessed of an unusually quick and mordant wit . . . why would he succumb to the temptation to make a movie as complacently conventional as Nine Months? The easy answer is lust -- for Hollywood stardom and fat paychecks. This strenuously crowd-pleasing Chris Columbus romantic comedy may well turn the trick -- you can't deny the director of "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" his commercial knack -- but it threatens to turn an interesting actor into a self-parodying commodity.

Grant isn't bad, but he's encouraged to overdo what he does well: that sputtering, eyelid-batting, diffident English charm. He plays a Porsche-driving San Francisco child psychologist whose perfect Yuppie existence is threatened when his girlfriend (Julianne Moore, wasted in a wan role) announces she's pregnant. Suddenly the slick shrink is a quivering mound of panic, his anxiety ex-acerbated by the bratiness of Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack's brood. Fed up with his fear of commitment, Moore packs her bags, but only someone just out of the womb could doubt the hero will discover the miracle of birth and family values will prevail.

In this remake of a French comedy, Columbus ricochets between sentimentally and slapstick. The best bits belong to the fringe characters: Jeff Goldbum's swinging artist and Robin William's excitable Russian obsterician. Williams charges through his scenes spewing broad but hilarious malapropisms.

It's hard to make a good romantic comedy out of piety; "Nine Months" keeps getting down on its knees to worship at the shrine of parenthood. Watching this self-flattering Yuppie fantasy, you get the feeling these baby-boomer filmmakers think they're the first generation to fall in love with their kids.