December 31, 2009

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Nine (PG-13)
The Federico Fellini film 8 1/2 gets jazz hands and a coating of glitter in Nine, a crazy musical full of glammed-up women and a sexed-up Daniel Day Lewis.

Famous Italian movie director Guido Contini (Lewis) has a star and a movie poster, but little else for his new film, Italia. He wants it to be a glorious celebration of Italian womanhood or some such whateverness that fits with the poster’s sexy illustration of bombshell Claudia (Nicole Kidman), and he would also like the film to not be a flop, like a few of his recent movies. He is, however, blocked, stuck, at a loss. He flees to a seaside spa. But even there, when he should be focusing on writing the movie’s script, he instead song-and-dances through memories about his mother (Sophia Loren) and the village girl of ill-repute (Stacy Ferguson). He day dreams about his smoking-hot mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz) and then deals with her needy reality. He moons after and betrays his wife, a pained-looking Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and he gets honest advice from his costume expert and longtime friend Lilli (Judi Dench). And, somewhere in there, Kate Hudson shows up to play a variation on her mom playing a sexual-liberation-loving blonde who hits on Guido via song.

Nine isn’t just a train wreck, it’s a wreck between a train carrying tankers of red wine and a freight train packed with containers of mascara and fishnet stockings. After impact, police in skinny ties and sunglasses survey the wreckage — women in lace corsets and too much lipstick hobble off the tracks in search of a cigarette. Just try to look away from that.

The story serves as slices of thin rye bread on which to balance the heaping piles of roast beef that are the song and dance numbers — every woman gets at least one. The songs vary in enjoyability — Fergie’s lusty “Be Italian” is probably the best, Judi Dench’s “Folies Bergère” and Cotillard’s “Take It All” are also nice romps that mix genuine talent with sparkly costumes. But this sandwich doesn’t always hold together — mustard and meat go all over the place. Not all of the songs are successful and Sophia Loren looks strangely stiff throughout the entire movie, as though perhaps her wax likeness and not the actual woman is what we’re seeing. Daniel Day Lewis looks great — even sounds OK, I suppose, but something about the absurdity of the movie overall makes his character a bit too absurd and not someone who you can sympathize with or, ultimately, care about at all.

When it isn’t confounding you with its strange, lace-covered weirdness, Nine is — disappointingly, surprisingly — trying your patience. In a musical, fakiness and big sparkly cheesiness are to be expected, but boredom is a near-fatal flaw. C

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. Directed by Rob Marshall and written by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella (from the Broadway musical by Arthur Kopit, Maury Yeston and Mario Fratti), Nine is an hour and 58 minutes and is distributed by The Weinstein Company.