Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nine

NINE (Rob Marshall, 2009)

Set in the free-wheeling '60s, the musical NINE follows film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he struggles to get his next movie off the ground. The famous Italian filmmaker has a title for his next opus but that's it. As he searches for a creative breakthrough, his thoughts turn to the women in his life.

NINE boasts a who's who of international actresses, with Penélope Cruz as his mistress, Nicole Kidman as his leading lady, Sophia Loren as his mother, and Marion Cotillard as his long-suffering wife Luisa.

NINE doesn't remake Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 so much as it pillages the classic film for the purposes of Broadway vamping. (NINE'S first life was as a stage production.) Director Rob Marshall and crew do a bang-up job of recreating the look of Fellini's films and stars, but for a movie that is supposed to be bursting with brio and passion, it comes off more like the soulless, uninspired product the director character within it might have scratched out to get a nagging producer off his back.

NINE deals with what is supposed to be intensely personal material, but Marshall brings no personality or verve to the tortured dreams of a stifled artist. It's a superficial affair that even lacks the decency of featuring good songs. While this is a lovely film to look at, it's a deadly situation when a musical would be best appreciated with the sound off.

As the prostitute who expedites a young Guido's carnal awakening, the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie growls and stomps through "Be Italian", the only halfway memorable tune in the songbook. In a fantasy sequence Kate Hudson's vapid reporter performs "Cinema Italiano", a song written specifically for the film. This wretched number about the virtues of Italian filmmaking is easily NINE'S low point.

Day-Lewis is always interesting to watch, but this role is thinly written and, to be generous, his singing voice leaves something to be desired. Cotillard fares best out of anyone in the talented but mostly squandered cast. In a film that is otherwise all surface, she reveals the emotional undercurrents in Luisa's stormy relationship with a creative genius and brings the only true feeling to NINE. The stunning Italian scenery, beautiful sets, and sexy ladies can't hide the fact that Marshall's film is basically all facade, and one barely propped up at that.

Grade: C-

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