"Nine" makes awkward transition to screen

Mon Dec 7, 2009 10:04pm EST
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By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Any number of movies have served as the basis for stage musicals -- even "Gone With the Wind" was bravely attempted, though with predictable results.

But it's fairly unusual and probably not a good idea to bring such musicals back into their original medium. One of the rare instances when it did work was Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria," which turned into a Broadway tuner, "Sweet Charity" (by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields), and then became a pretty terrific Bob Fosse musical film. The Weinstein Co. and a host of producers thought lightning might strike twice with Fellini's "8 1/2," which inspired the Tony Award-winning 1982 musical "Nine." Lightning does not strike the same place twice.

The disappointments are many here, from a starry cast the film ill uses to flat musical numbers that never fully integrate into the dramatic story. The only easy prediction is that "Nine," which opens December 18, is not going to revive the slumbering musical film genre. Box office looks problematic too, but moviegoers are going to be enticed by that cast, and the Weinstein brothers certainly know how to promote a movie. Modest returns are the most optimistic possibility.

Fellini's 1963 masterpiece takes you inside a man's head. Since he happens to be a movie director, those daydreams and recollections are visually striking but, more to the point, you sense, through the nightmares of an artist blocked from his own creativity, everything that is going on inside this man. In "Nine," written by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, you get a tired filmmaker with too many women in his life and not enough movie ideas.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido and, to his credit, it's not Marcello Mastroianni's Guido but a new character, more burned-out than blocked and increasingly sickened by his womanizing.

The English-language film insists it's still 1965 Rome, where black-and-white, Cinecitta Studios, Vespas, Ray-Bans and all things Italian reign. A new Guido Contini movie is about to start production, but no script exists. In despair, Guido flees to a seaside spa. Within a day, his mistress (Penelope Cruz, all legs and pleading libido), demanding producer, production team and then his wife (Marion Cotillard, unable to adapt well to misery) take up residence in the small town.

Sad romantic trysts and unproductive production meetings ensue. In his imagination, all the women of his life, from his mother (a rather saintly Sophia Loren) to that whore on the beach from his childhood (Stacy Ferguson, better known as Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas), materialize. Each has her production number. Then, the numbers done, the movie returns to dreary melodrama.

Under Rob Marshall's awkward direction, it really is that segmented: melodrama, song, melodrama, song. The musical numbers clearly take place on a huge stage (at the U.K.'s Shepperton Studios), while the rest of the movie ostensibly occurs in Italy, though it often looks pretty stage-bound too.   Continued...

<p>(L-R) Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, director Rob Marshall, Penelope Cruz and Kate Hudson arrive for the world premiere of "Nine" at Leicester Square in London December 3, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs</p>