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Despite numbers, ‘Nine’ falls short

Published: Thu, December 24, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Germain

Title-wise, the musical “Nine” registers half a digit higher than “81‚Ñ2,” the Federico Fellini masterpiece that inspired the stage show that was the source for this new movie version. On a scale of 1 to 10, though, “Nine” comes in somewhere around a 5, maybe 51‚Ñ2.

Yeah, comparing the two is unfair, but “Nine” is the same story at its core. And despite stars with enough Academy Awards hardware to start their own metal works, Rob Marshall’s musical ends up as an amiable but muddled music-video rehash of Fellini’s study of a filmmaker adrift in personal and creative turmoil.

Maybe the lofty cast — Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench among them — raises expectations too high. Certainly, Marshall’s revival of the movie musical on the sly and spirited “Chicago,” a best-picture Oscar winner, also jacks up anticipation for “Nine.”

Though the musical numbers are grandly staged and delivered with earnest, the songs are not all that memorable — including three new ones written expressly for the film version.

The crises of a filmmaker — pampered and fawned over by everyone he encounters, with a beautiful wife, a knockout mistress and other gorgeous women lining up to sleep with him — comes off as trifling. It’s hard to care about this guy’s little bout of writer’s block when he’s got it all and then some in his personal and professional lives.

Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, a 1960s Italian filmmaker besieged by paparazzi and hangers-on as he prepares to start his latest movie — even though he hasn’t a clue what it’s going to be about.

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