Musical (125 min.) Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.
The man at the center of the universe in Nine, the sun around which a bevy of beautiful women will circle, needs to be irresistible, radiating heat. Unfortunately, Daniel Day-Lewis is more of a cool blue moon in a distant sky type, which has its own charm, just not one that works for this adaptation of the 1982 Broadway sensation, a musical / stage riff on Fellini's classic 81â„2, which featured a magnetic Marcello Mastroianni as the misdirected director in the middle.
And while we're filling the suggestion box. . . . Because Nine is a musical, it would help if your leading man could sing, and I don't mean carry a tune, but actually flex some vocal muscle. Again, love Daniel Day-Lewis, excellent racing shirtless through the forest, but a song-and-dance man he is not.
So what does that leave Nine with? Well not much.
What makes all these fumbles surprising is that director Rob Marshall knows his way around musical theater, hitting his highest notes with Oscar best picture winner Chicago.
As Marshall did very well in Chicago, he tries again in Nine, giving the film's action a life that is both cinematic and stagy, and I mean stagy in a good way. He begins by taking the aesthetic power of a story unfolding on stage with its mostly static sets and lots of dramatic lighting. The scenes with Day-Lewis on a soundstage - all that yawning space just waiting for a vision - are beautiful. But the beauty is only skin deep.
Then just as that "but wait, this is a movie" feeling kicks in, Marshall sends his actors, the action and the rest of us into a real world filled with streets and cars and crowds. But the real world is a dangerous place, and so it is here, jarring and unnerving for everyone, actors included.
The starting gun in Nine is the industry's version of a firing squad - a press conference. As flash bulbs pop, famous director Guido Contini (Day-Lewis), who's had a few recent flops, goes about deflecting the barbed questions with a blend of boredom and arrogance, though maybe that's the same thing. Regardless, there are scenes when the jaunty fedora is pulled so low, you wonder if he's dozing off.
Guido's passive nature really doesn't suit Day-Lewis any better than hot sun. Charisma, though, the self-deprecating sort that pulls you close, would have been a better choice for Guido, particularly when he's in the company of women who are supposed to be beguiled.
As to those women, Marshall has gathered up an eclectic group, including the nice touch of casting Sophia Loren, who may be the only one in the film with a real Italian accent, as Guido's mother. They spend the film spinning in and out of his orbit, helping the troubled artist work through his issues, mostly at the seaside hotel where he's escaped to try to sort himself out.
The closest Nine comes to a showstopper is Fergie as the prostitute whose early influence shaped Guido's passions. The intensity and energy she brings to "Be Italian" coupled with the staging and the leggy dancers, make it the one musical set piece that feels Broadway worthy, although Hudson belting out "Cinema Italian" comes close.
Cotillard as Guido's wife, so fierce as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, gets to play pretty and soft, which is nice to see and she's lovely at it. On the other hand, the movie star role is not much of a stretch for Kidman.
Nine is one of those films that couldn't look better on paper - so many Oscar, Tony and Grammy winners involved that the production should have literally glittered with all that gold. But in the end, nothing adds up. Perhaps Zero would have been a better name. (LA Times/MCT)