It’s sort of perverse to take a work of art as personal and idiosyncratic as Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½ and turn it into a soulless assembly-line Hollywood product. It’s even worse to attempt to pass that product off as a work of art all its own, but that’s exactly what we’re getting with Nine, a photocopied photocopy of Fellini’s landmark film, by way of the 1982 Broadway musical adaptation. This is another of that strange beast of the last decade, the movie based on a musical based on a movie (see also: Hairspray, The Producers), and the story has lost a little of its impact in each iteration, to the point now where it’s just a chance for a bunch of Oscar hopefuls to pretend they can sing and dance.
Fellini’s film featured Marcello Mastroianni as a Fellini stand-in paralyzed by writer’s block, existential dread and other very 1960s ailments in his efforts to put together his next film. Nine has Daniel Day-Lewis as filmmaker Guido Contini, also stuck on how to proceed with his next film, and replaces Fellini’s indulgent fantasy sequences (full of Catholic imagery) with gaudy musical numbers, as each of the various women in Guido’s life show up to sing a song that describes how they feel about him.
Director Rob Marshall goes one step beyond the approach he brought to 2002’s Chicago, essentially isolating the musical numbers from the rest of the movie, so that each one takes place on the soundstage where Guido is attempting to piece together his film. This gives the already mediocre songs a disjointed feel, like they don’t belong in the movie at all. As singers, the famous faces who show up as Guido’s women range from painfully inadequate (Kate Hudson as a superfluous journalist character) to passably entertaining (Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz as Guido’s wife and mistress, respectively) to somewhat impressive (The Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie as a prostitute from Guido’s childhood).
Marshall’s staging of the musical numbers is more reality-show burlesque than Broadway class, and his black-and-white flashbacks evoke Calvin Klein ads more than vintage Italian cinema. There’s just no life to this version of the story, which is stuck between art-movie pretensions and stage kitsch. It could use a little less star power and a little more ennui.