“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.
For those who thought last year’s “WALL-E” was the last word in animated post apocalyptic entertainment along comes a dark fable about a war ravaged world populated by brave burlap dolls (numbered 1 through 9) and terrifying machines. Call it Sock Puppets Save the World if you like, but despite the kid-friendly lead characters, “9” isn’t as cute and cuddly as “WALL-E.”
Set ten years after the war to end all wars actually ended everything, “9” really picks up when the title character mistakenly awakens a terrifying machine with the ability to create other machines of destruction. As 9 and the other dolls fight the evil machines they discover the very essence of their existence; that they were created by a scientist who knew the end of life as he knew it was near. Rather than see all life disappear he created these limited edition rag dolls, each with a special skill, to continue life.
The basic idea behind “9” is something we’ve seen before—technology goes wild and machines turn on humans—but what makes this film unique is, bless their little burlap hearts, the rag dolls. Each has a well defined personality and while the voice work isn’t terribly strong—save for Christopher Plummer as 1, the king doll—they all bring something interesting to the story.
Jennifer Connolly voices 7, a kind of ninja beanie baby character. She’s a strong female presence in a genre that often lacks interesting roles for women. Other voices in this eclectic cast include Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover and Martin Landau.
“9” isn’t so much a story as it is a series of action set pieces bound together by ideas. The narrative is simple—man has been destroyed and now these little saviors must defeat the big bad machines or they too will be crushed—and little effort is spent developing the story past a certain point. Lots of effort, however, has been put into creating the elaborate action scenes that make up the bulk of the film.
The wild scenes—mainly of demonic looking machines trying to kill the little dolls—may be too intense for young kids. Ten and eleven year olds should be fine with the imagery—human skulls attached to winged metal skeletons and the like—but anyone younger than that might have trouble sleeping after these frenetic, violent sequences.
Of course, there is an environmental message attached to the story; this is, after all a movie aimed at the young. It’s not heavy handed, but lines like “This world is ours now… it’s what we make of it” subtly push kids to think about their surroundings.
“9” is cool sci fi for kids with imaginative characters and lots of action that doesn’t talk down to its audience.