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nine-poster“Nine,” the latest Broadway to big screen outing from director Rob Marshall, is by turns breathtaking and frustrating. A cinematic remounting of the 1982 Tony award-winning musical (which was itself inspired by Federico Fellini’s classic “8 ½”) about an Italian film director in the throws of a mid-life crisis is heavy on the glamour—Kate Hudson’s character tells the director that in his movies “every frame is like a postcard” and that is certainly true here as well—but not heavy enough with story.

When the movie starts world-famous filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is mentally blocked. His latest opus “Italia” is only ten days away from the beginning of production and he has yet to have an idea for the film, let alone write a line of dialogue. Edging ever closer to a nervous breakdown, his entanglements with a variety of women, including his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz), wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and mother (Sophia Loren), only push him further down his self made rabbit hole.

The first question everyone has about “Nine” is, “Can Daniel Day Lewis sing?” The answer, in a word (actually a few words) is, no, not really. He speak-sings his two songs in a strange baritone that sounds more like a drunk uncle singing with the wedding band than a big-budget musical star, but I can forgive the singing because his brooding presence anchors every scene in the film. In a movie as cotton candy light as this you need something or someone to affix the story to and Day-Lewis is it.

Marshall takes the movie’s thin premise and stretches it to feature length, keeping the eye interested with stylish camera work, scantily clad dancers and great 1960s Italian locations, fashions and period decoration, but he may have taken the words of one of his characters a bit too seriously. “Style is the new content,” coos Stephanie (Kate Hudson). If that is true then “Nine” is the most substantial movie of the year, meaning that it is great to look at, but somehow, the story doesn’t really connect.

If you are just going for the music however, you won’t be disappointed. Marshall has cut several of the tunes from the original score, added several others (by original Broadway composer Maury Yeston) and wallpapered the movie with memorable songs, set pieces and choreography. Highlights include Fergie’s ode to roaming hands, “Be Italian,” “Cinema Italiano” Kate Hudson’s exuberantly fluffy 60’s pop number and “A Call from the Vatican,” Penelope Cruz’s steamy phone sex song.

“Nine’s” glossy veneer over powers whatever story there is but its panache and energy will keep your eye entertained.

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