More like six out of 10

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Nine, mu­si­cal, rated PG-13, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 2 chiles

The posters for Nine ask that you “be Ital­ian” this hol­i­day sea­son. The film’s ti­tle and con­tent sug­gest a homage to Fed­erico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½ , but it is adapted from a 1982 Broad­way pro­duc­tion that was al­ready such a homage. The story has now wan­dered so far from the source of in­spi­ra­tion that as far as trans­lat­ing an au­then­tic Ital­ian ex­pe­ri­ence goes, it’s more Olive Gar­den than Trat­to­ria Nos­trani.

Not that au­then­tic­ity is nec­es­sar­ily the most ad­mirable qual­ity a film could pos­sess. There is still po­ten­tial for en­joy­ment here, and be­lieve me, I re­ally wanted to en­joy Nine— though per­haps not as much as di­rec­tor Rob Mar­shall ( Chicago) wanted me to. Still, you must pos­sess a cyn­i­cal heart in­deed to sit in front of a mu­si­cal star­ring Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kid­man, Mar­ion Cotil­lard, and Pené­lope Cruz and not hope to have a good time.

Day-Lewis plays Guido Con­tini, a cel­e­brated movie di­rec­tor in 1960s Italy who is at­tempt­ing to make a come­back af­ter a string of flops. Pro­duc­tion on “Italia,” his lat­est film, is to be­gin shortly. Cos­tumes are crafted, sets are built, and the star ac­tress is due to ar­rive. Con­tini is tak­ing press con­fer­ences, and he doesn’t have a script or the slight­est idea what the film is about. He holes up in a ho­tel room and faces his ca­reer cri­sis by smok­ing cigarettes and re­flect­ing on the pa­rade of women cir­cling through his life and

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mem­ory— from his saintly mother (Sophia Loren) to his ma­tronly cos­tume de­signer (Dench), from his staid, ne­glected wife (Cotil­lard) to his sul­try if crazy mis­tress (Cruz).

Nine also seems to be miss­ing a script and di­rec­tion. Writ­ers Michael Tolkin and the late An­thony Minghella crafted sev­eral nice mo­ments, but a bit of fleet­ing nos­tal­gia and homage does not make a movie. For­tu­nately, as with Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis res­cues the movie from the brink of dis­as­ter. He doesn’t take to the role with the tor­tured warmth of 8½ ’s Mar­cello Mas­troianni, but in­stead plays it with the de­tached celebrity of Bob Dy­lan in Don’t Look Back. He slinks around, looking ef­fort­lessly cool with black sun­glasses, skinny ties, and black suits hug­ging his lanky frame. He leans his body at slanted an­gles and walks with a slightly un­even gait, as if to show that Con­tini is a lit­tle off com­pared with every­one else. I wasn’t sure whether this was to con­vey the ge­nius of the artist or the tur­moil of his cri­sis, but ei­ther way, it’s dif­fi­cult to take your eyes off of him.

The cast of gifted women doesn’t have as much to do— which is sad, es­pe­cially in the cases of the al­ways-wel­come Dench and Cotil­lard. With so many great ac­tresses in such a rel­a­tively short film, each woman is given min­i­mal screen time and, aside from Cruz, very lit­tle to do. They are ush­ered in, do a scene or two, per­form a mu­si­cal num­ber, and exit. In the end, when the women all re­turn to­gether, it feels more like a sim­ple cur­tain call than a mov­ing dis­play of the women who shaped the man.

None­the­less, Nine has style and hu­mor, and it is al­most de­light­ful — when the char­ac­ters are not singing. The mu­si­cal num­bers that make up half of the movie are all duds. There isn’t a sin­gle song here that you’ll even re­mem­ber af­ter you leave the the­ater, much less one that you’ll be hum­ming. The chore­og­ra­phy didn’t strike me as be­ing par­tic­u­larly in­spired, and the dance se­quences are shot like those in so many other mod­ern mu­si­cals— with a con­stantly mov­ing cam­era and hasty edit­ing, to ob­scure the fact that th­ese per­form­ers aren’t ex­actly Fred As­taire and Gin­ger Rogers. Th­ese days, the cam­era and edit­ing equip­ment do the danc­ing, not the ac­tors.

The slow-burn­ing bur­lesque striptease that Cruz per­forms is the only song that works on any level, and the less said about the gar­ish num­ber per­formed by an out-of-her-depth Kate Hud­son, the bet­ter. Day-Lewis ac­quits him­self well enough in his two num­bers, as he cer­tainly knows how to turn a hu­mor­ous phrase and to make grand phys­i­cal ges­tures. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel he is gifted with an ac­tor’s com­mand over his body, not a dancer’s.

While the movie owes a great deal to 8½ , the Broad­way and cabaret flair re­minded me more of­ten of Bob Fosse’s 1979 film All That Jazz. That movie, while not a di­rect adap­ta­tion, also owes a debt to Fellini. Fosse evoked the Ital­ian di­rec­tor’s work in a Man­hat­tan set­ting and also man­aged to con­vey the grav­i­tas that helps Fellini’s films work. There is no such grav­i­tas in Nine, and no sense of stakes. Ul­ti­mately, why should we care if Con­tini gets “Italia” off the ground? No­body here can con­jure up a good rea­son why Nine should ex­ist.

My two left feet: Daniel Day-Lewis

This year’s raz­zle daz­zle: Fergie, cen­ter

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