Meg Ryan's new boxing flick is a blow to her career.

Often, after viewing a film, I'll call my dear friend Herr Doktor Prof. Samuel Slote (author of The Silence in Progress of Dante, Mallarmé, and Joyce), and, in his pretentious, northeastern way, he will say, "How bad was it?"

He assumes, you see, that popular enjoyments like cinema are so far beneath his tastes that each and every one could be described in terms best left to analyses of the odors produced by rotting cow rectums.

Usually, in an effort to connect him to the people, I will respond, "not so bad!" or "parts of it were quite good!" or, at least, "it had its moments!" Usually. Every now and then, though, a film is so unexpectedly brilliant that I will burst forth with effusive praise and explain that in this particular outing, Mr. Sandler or Ms. Zellweger rose high above the low expectations that puffed-up academics like Dr. Slote may have.

Thus, it was with intense honesty and passion that I said to Dr. Slote that Meg Ryan's new boxing pic, Against the Ropes, blew like a Catholic schoolgirl on prom night. It's truly one of the most atrocious things ever set on celluloid, a film so devoid of entertainment value that I was reduced to counting the surgery scars on Meg Ryan's now Frankenstein-esque mug.

It's hard to know where to begin in hating this monstrosity. Perhaps at the beginning: Imagine the cruelty of a screenwriter who would have an innocent 10-year-old girl utter expository dialogue in the opening scene of a movie. Is there no law against child cruelty?

That young girl, after expostulating upon her desire to grow up to be a boxing manager, turns into the hideously re-configured Meg Ryan, who plays Jackie Kallen, an assistant to an asshole who runs a fight venue. Let me say this about Meg Ryan: She really wasn't such a bad actress. Sure, she had all those crappy romantic comedy roles, but when she was given a chance to shine in Hurlyburly, she was shockingly good. And in bad movies where she had some dramatic potential, like The Doors or Courage Under Fire, she rose above the material, though she was clearly constrained by it.

Plus, she remained an attractive woman up to the day she had herself butchered by some Mary Shelley fan with a medical degree. What compelled her to make her face incapable of expressing emotion, through the miracles of modern science, is beyond me. Throughout this film, though, each time she tries to emote, detached muscles and incapacitated nerves struggle valiantly to pull what's left of her face into a semblance of feeling. It works in the same way the voice synthesizer on your computer works: badly, and in cheap imitation of the richness of humanity.

But that alone is not enough to sink a film. Horrible dialogue, though, is. Every line in this movie is a bad cliché stretched into an extended metaphor. Like, when Kerry Washington, playing the part of Trusted Friend Who Will Be Left Behind When Jackie Kallen Finds Success, tells Jackie, "They've pushed you so far down, you're in the basement! Hell, you can't even see the glass ceiling from down there! Lucky for you, the only way out is up!" Because people really talk like that. And if they don't, dammit, they should!

Of course, Meg does rise through the glass ceiling and into the stratosphere of professional boxing, lofting into the difficult realms of shallow fame, where the only way to go is down, causing her to crash back to earth, where, of course, she lands on her feet. In the course of this drawn-out process, she will say things like, "I'm really good with people, and I can read you like a book." No doubt it's a weighty tome filled with swirling emotional heights. She will also say, "I might as well spit in the face of destiny." Indeed. You might as well.

The dialogue is so atrocious, and the story so obvious. (I wonder if she'll manage her boxer to the championship, and if he'll win the championship, and if she'll lose herself along the way, and if she'll later find herself and make amends and everyone will be happy? I won't say, but it's worth pondering while you wait for the incredibly unexpected ending of this riveting motion-picture experience.) This film would have played better as mime. Or as mime performed by robots.

In any event, while we wait for the novelization of this movie to come out (I hear it's going to be a coloring book!), we can only pray that February and March, traditionally the worst movie months of the year, pass quickly, and that Hollywood can sweep out the filth like Against the Ropes in time for the long-awaited summer blockbuster season, when, even if the movies are insipid and ill-conceived, they can at least distract us from their lack of script and dialogue with a dazzling array of explosions and butts. Until that time, when Charlie's Angels Episode 3: The Phantom Thong comes like a cinematic narcotic, I can only recommend staying away from the mainstream theaters, lest you enjoy seeing the likes of Meg Ryan trying to perform the delicate operation of warming hearts by using a flamethrower and a crate of napalm.

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