Nine is the latest Broadway musical adaptation from Chicago director Rob Marshall, and it might as well be Chicago 2. It’s clear that he has a specific formula, one which he copied from Chicago and pasted on to this latest film. That formula has characters wandering around in a story, displaced from the dancing and singing which make this a musical. In the real world it’s cigarettes and dinner but in their heads it’s a cavalcade of sight and sound which, in theory, is supposed to represent what they’re thinking and feeling.
Except it doesn’t work nearly as well here. These songs don’t carry the weighted significance that the biggest moments in Chicago do. There is no “Mr. Cellophane”, instead several of the songs boil down quite literally “I love movies” and have nothing to say beyond that. The music is, beyond the pageantry of glitter and feathered costumes, a waste of time. In any good musical all the songs and dancing should actually mean something, they should serve the purpose of moving the plot along or giving us a greater understanding of our characters. In Marshall’s movie musical formula though, that becomes even more critical since the song and dance numbers only exist to convey deeper information we, theoretically, can’t get any other way. That doesn’t happen in Nine, at best the musical moments serve as a recap of things we already know and at their worst they’re just an interlude that gets in the way while we wait for more plot.
If only the plot were worth waiting for. Nine stars Daniel Day-Lewis as renowned Italian film director Guido Contini. He’s in the middle of making his new movie and things are pretty far along. They’re building sets, they’ve chosen a cast, costuming is well underway and the press is buzzing about what he’ll do next. Just one problem: He doesn’t have a script. Worse he’s out of ideas and we follow Contini as he mopes around various sets looking for inspiration and obsessing over the beautiful women who make up the fabric of his life. Scratch that, there’s really not so much time spent looking for inspiration. Mostly it’s Contini doing a lot of lusting when he probably should be writing instead.
When he’s not lusting he’s singing and unfortunately, Daniel Day-Lewis’s attempt at an Italian accent makes his vocals sound like something from Jason Segel’s Dracula rock opera in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Except I’m fairly certain I’d have rather spent two hours watching a feature length version of an all puppet Vampire musical than to sit through an equal amount of this. At least that’s fresh, this feels like the leftover parts of everything that’s come before.
On the other hand, maybe if you’re not looking for anything deeper you’ll enjoy Nine. It does contain many beautiful women in Rob Marshall’s version of sexy lingerie (which for some reason always looks like it was chosen from a 1984 copy of Victoria’s Secret) writhing and dancing on various stages. Penelope Cruz puts the most effort into it, kicking and swinging around in her musical number like a crazed, sexed-up wildcat. Marion Cotillard, unlike the movie’s other actresses, may leave you with the impression that she can actually sing while Nicole Kidman proves very good at standing in one spot and looking pretty. Even Kate Hudson is better than terrible, though it should be noted that she is, once again, in a terrible film. There has to be some connection. If you’re looking for women in feathered boas doing high kicks to an assortment of vintage sounding musical numbers then Nine delivers. So do the Rockettes. For the rest of us, hoping for something more, it’s an utter failure.