(Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, et al / PG-13 / 1 hrs 50 mins / Weinstein Company)
Overview: Famous film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) grapples with epic crises in his personal and professional life. At the same time, he must strike a balance among the demands of the numerous women in his life, including his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), and his confidant (Judi Dench).
Verdict: 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 8½, 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.
The galaxy of actresses who should bring some sizzle feel kind of chilly too. Maybe that's the fault of the fishnets and bustiers, which is what the film relies on to keep your attention rather than a story, disappointing since the script was in the hands of Michael Tolkin (The Player) and the late Anthony Minghella (The English Patient.). 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.
The story here is loosely based on director Federico Fellini's experience. At middle age, the Italian auteur found himself with a bad case of writer's block; while the words wouldn't come, a lot of memories about the women he had bedded did. No surprise, thinking about the women was easier than working on a script, but ultimately the two merged to provide the foundation for 8½, which follows a middle-aged filmmaker with writer's block and many women as he tries to find his way back to the mistress he loves the best, his work.
But what in Fellini's hands became a classic -- its black comedy deconstructing the artistic temperament -- only to survive an initial translation to the stage, now returns home to film as a fiasco.
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.