A film review by Craig J. Koban January 5, 2010


2009, PG-13, 112 mins.


Guido: Daniel Day-Lewis / Luisa: Marion Cotillard / Carla: Penelope Cruz / Lilli: Judi Dench / Saraghina: Fergie / Stephanie: Kate Hudson / Claudia: Nicole Kidman / Mamma: Sophia Loren

The Weinstein Co. presents a film directed by Rob Marshall / Written by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, based on the musical "Nine" by Arthur Kopit and adapted from the film "8½" by Federico Fellini. 

Rob Marshall’s NINE - not to be confused with 9 or DISTRICT 9 – is one of the very few silver screen musicals that is specifically tailored for male audiences.  

Let’s face it, musicals are not every red blooded man’s cup of tea, but anyones out there that considers this genre ostensibly caught within the no-man’s zone of the “chick flick” need to rush out and see NINE.  This is a movie musical designed exclusively for readers of FHM and MAXIM.  It contains some of the most exquisitely sexy and attractive women in the industry strutting, swinging, shaking, and singing their ways into our collective pornographic fantasies.  On those levels, Marshall’s film is an absolute triumph of smolderingly risqué voyeurism; you want hot women showing why they are hot for two hours, then this is required viewing. 

Yet, beyond the sinful pleasures of seeing most of the actresses here cavort around with a carnal, hedonistic intensity, NINE is a film that never really lingered within me even minutes after I left the theatre.  Perhaps part of the problem is that the whole enterprise – despite containing ravishing art and set direction, costumes, and period detail -  never really gels or gains momentum as a rip roaring musical fantasia.  Few film musicals have left me feeling as distant and empty after the credits rolled by as NINE: Yes, the film is awash in musical/dance numbers, and some are indeed show stoppers, but too many of them are cluttered, uninspired, and feel perfunctory, like something you would see out of the Broadway Show Tune 101 playbook.  Even worse is that the whole film itself feels more like an elongated MTV video/ trailer; those artistically aggressive flourishes worked awe inspired wonders for MOULIN ROGUE (still the best musical of the decade) but it proves more distracting and distancing here. 

The razzle dazzle on display in NINE also helps to exacerbate another large dilemma: this film is completely overshadowed by the legendary legacy of one of the most critical lauded films of last century.  Federico Fellini fundamentalists will, no doubt, have much to chastise here while sitting through NINE, and I can’t really blame them.  Marshall’s film is an adaptation of an adaptation: it’s based on Arthur Kopit’s book for the 1982 Tony Award winning musical, which in turn was derived from an Italian play by Mario Fratti inspired by Fellini’s 1963 film, .  The stage musical was popular when released in 1982 and ran for 729 performances.  Having never seen the musical - but having seen the 1963 film version numerous times - I can conclude that NINE is not really concerned at all with tackling some of Fellini’s themes.  was a startling evocation on the nature of how artistic impulses battled financial ones while making a film as well as showing how a filmmaker struggled with massive creative block.  Those themes were paramount to Fellini’s effort (many have labeled the film as slyly autobiographical), but in NINE they are lamentably undeveloped: they essentially exist in the background and are brought to forefront whenever convenient. 

The story for NINE – written by late Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin – does recycle some of the plot threads from Fellini’s landmark film, which in turn was a reflection of Fellini the man and filmmaker.  8½. dealt with its main character’s paranoia, guilt, obsession, and artistic self-loathing and, in part, so does Marshall's film.  Guido (Daniel Day Lewis, a Brit that's about as Italian as a Ukrainian lad from Saskatoon) is a revered and popular Italian film director that, in the mid-1960’s, is attempting to begin preparations for his next motion picture.  The problem is that his last few films were notable financial and critical disasters, so he feels added pressure to really persevere and return to form.  His next film, his ninth, is to be called “Italia” and is shrouded in secrecy.  Actually, there are two things that Guido reveals to the press (in one of the film’s better sequences): (a) the film will be called “Italia” and (b) it will star his career-muse, Claudia (Nicole Kidman).  What he does refuse to reveal is that he is suffering from the largest case of writer’s block in his career.  Not only has this stalled at penning the film’s script, but he has failed to even start it. 

While trying to make his next film a crowd pleasing reality, Guido is struck by other mid-life dilemmas, like his womanizing and adulterous ways that are steadily catching up to haunt him.  His guilt over not starting his script is mirrored by his guilt over the women he has be sleeping with outside of his marriage.  Guido finds himself entangled with not one, not two, not three, but four women (one of which is a figure from his past).  All of the women, in some form or another, are infatuated with him: First there is his loving, but emotionally guarded and timid wife (Marion Cotillard, an absolutely exquisite, natural beauty, ); his sultry and seductive leading lady Claudia; a spunky, Go-Go girl inspired Vogue reporter (a slinky Kate Hudson); his slightly loopy and unstable mistress (a ravishing Penelope Cruz), and even a mysterious and enigmatic female presence from his childhood (Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas).  Two other women complicate Guido’s life, but in more platonic ways: His fiercely loyal costume designer (a lively Judi Dench) always acts as his moral compass and his mother (Sophia Loren) always finds a way to be a thorn in his side.  One thing is abundantly clear: no mortal man could handle the likes of Kidman, Cotillard, Cruz, and Kidman all vying for his sexual gratification.   

As already mentioned, NINE rages though its running time with its simmering and blistering sexuality, provided by its lively quartet of fetching female stars.  This just may be the hottest PG-13 film I’ve seen, and even though NINE contains no blatant nudity or lewdness, there is a copious amount of overt sensual innuendo.  This is essentially a film about drop-dead gorgeous women tormenting a deeply neurotic and guilt-ridden man, and the sensuality is never kept in check here.  Whenever the women appear on screen, NINE is a wondrous, eye-gasmic delight.  Some of the numbers are real scorchers, like a mind-blowingly sexy Penelope Cruz swaggering and contorting her scantily clad visage to massively agreeable effects (I never knew she was so...er...flexible), and another late number appropriately called “Take It All” delivered by Cotillard that all but confirms my belief that she is one of the most radiant and passionate actress around: it’s impossible to take your eyes off her.  And – wow! – what a revelation Kate Hudson is here, as her lavish, colorful and frivolously fun “Cinema Italiano” shows a snarky charisma and energy that I’ve never seen in her before.  Oh yeah…she’s really hot too. 

There are a few other numbers I liked, especially Fergie’s where she plays a beach babe from Guido’s past that hits every note in “Be Italian” (the film’s finest song) with a hefty sonic vigor.  That, and the film does look sensational: Marshall uses a combination of color and black and white images sandwiched together to create an interesting mosaic of a different time and place, and the costumes by Dion Beebe and production design by John Myhre are sumptuously rock solid.  However, as good as the film looks and as much raw appeal that most of the actresses muster, there is not much else in NINE that is altogether memorable or lasting.  The film contains ten songs (three of which were original to this film), but I could probably only hum two or three of them in my head days after seeing it.  Most of them are awkwardly choreographed and staged, not to mention that the overall film lacks unity with them.  NINE is colorful and energetic, but you never gain a sense that there is cohesion between all of the numbers.  Plus, some of the lyrics themselves are real groan inducing: it’s sad to hear limitlessly talented actresses like Cotillard bellow out tacky, cookie-cutter lyrics.  Ouch, indeed.

Perhaps my two biggest disappointments in the film are Daniel Day Lewis and Nicole Kidman.  Day Lewis is easily one of the greatest actors of his generation, and he certainly is up to the task of matching the women with his vocal range, but he infuses in Guido so much dour, method-inspired pessimism and pathos that it’s almost as if he forgot to have fun with the role (Marcello Mastroianni he ain’t, but then again, who is?).  Kidman, on the other hand, should have fared better (she was miraculously assured and picturesque in MOULIN ROGUE), but here she is reduced to more of a brief cameo than a fully realized character (she apparently was a very last minute replacement for Catherine Zeta Jones, and it shows).  Plus, her “big” song number, “Unusual Way,” is a tedious, watch-checking bore.   

I can definitely understand why Marshall wished to return to the screen musical: his 2002 effort, CHICAGO, ran away with the Best Picture Oscar (still, for my money, one of the most undeserving winners ever).  He has a good eye for period detail and he’s competent enough to handle NINE’s untamed and burlesque theatricality.  Yet, the film never attains a liberating feel of reckless abandon, nor does it create much enthusiasm in the underlining story (without the music and songs, NINE would definitely feel nine hours long).  I became really hot-blooded with the onslaught of seductive women on display here (it’s a spectacular looking film aside from the obvious art direction), but beyond the insatiable cover girl allure, NINE fails to immerse and astound as it should have.  

That, and it certainly feels like 8½ For Dummies. 

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