Courtesy of DAVID JAMES
Ask yourself one simple question: are you attracted to Penelope Cruz? If your answer is yes, you should consider seeing “Nine” — she is very attractive and minimally dressed throughout. Unfortunately, there is not much else to like about this movie.
Directed by Rob Marshall, “Nine” is a serviceable movie that provides at least two good songs and one good performance alongside lots of scantily clad women. However, the majority of the songs are underwhelming and eventually you are left feeling strangely removed from the film’s protagonist.
The movie, based on a Broadway play of the same name, focuses on the life of Guido Contini, a fictional Italian film director who rose to fame by making groundbreaking — if a bit “un-Catholic” — films. After a recent string of flops (people often tell him, “I like your films — your older films, at least”), Contini is trying to write and direct a new film grandly titled, “Italia.” The only problem? He hasn’t written the movie yet.
The rest of the film revolves around Contini trying to either get out of writing the movie, or looking hopelessly lost over empty sheets of paper. Throughout out it all, nine women revolve in and out of his life, most played by a coterie of Oscar-winning actresses including Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren and Nicole Kidman.
The plot isn’t exactly riveting, but crazier things have worked. Marshall’s previous musical, the magnificent “Chicago,” isn’t exactly “King Lear.” But it worked. It had good music, good performances and by the end, one finds themselves wholeheartedly cheering for a lying, cheating, murdering “jazz killer” to get off easy.
In “Nine,” that emotional connection — the one that can connect viewers to even the most devilish of cinematic figures — is missing. Contini, played by the inimitable Daniel Day-Lewis, is entertaining and childishly appealing. He is not, however, all that interesting. Despite the best efforts of Day-Lewis, Contini comes off as spoiled, brattish and kind of annoying. Day-Lewis, like usual, uses his insanely fierce eyes to convey hurt, anger, sorrow, pity, attraction and so on, but each sentiment falls flat, utterly unconnected to the previous emotion. However, as Day-Lewis can seemingly do no wrong, one will find themselves blaming the script or the director — anyone but Day-Lewis.
All of the women in the cast also do a fine job. They all look concerned when they are supposed to (though Nicole Kidman seems to have lost the ability to look anything but stone-faced anymore) and they all look sexy when they are supposed to (except for Judi Dench, who can’t quite pull off burlesque anymore). In the end, they do well, but the sum of their parts does not add up to a good movie (except Penelope Cruz — she always adds up to a good movie).
The biggest problem with the movie is a simple one, really. The bread and butter of any musical is the music, and “Nine’s” is just not all that good. There are two OK songs. Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson belts out “Be Italian,” which, if nothing else, will at least serve as a quick primer for prepubescent boys to pick up girls, and, at best, could keep one from changing a radio station.
Kate Hudson truly steals the whole show with her rendition of “Cinema Italiano.” The song, which has a groovy jungle drum rhythm in the background, is definitely catchy. Hudson’s character Stephanie, a Vogue reporter extremely forward about her attraction for Contini, does what nothing else in the movie could: For about three minutes — the duration of the song — Guido seemed like a pretty cool cat.
If you like Day-Lewis, go see the movie. He plays a good Contini, and he is always entertaining. If you like good-looking girls dressed scantily —and you don’t have cable or Internet — go see this movie. However, if you’re bored by a nearly two-hour film that fails to engage the viewer on any emotional level, sit this one out.
“Nine” hits theaters Christmas day.