Broadway musical adaptations have had a decent track record in recent years but not so with Nine, a new film based on the stage musical, which lacks the stream-of-consciousness fluidity and deadpan wit (among other elements) that marked Federico Fellini's arthouse classic film and original source material, 8 1/2.
Daniel Day-Lewis takes the lead here as director Guido Conti (originally played by Marcello Mastroianni), a famed Italian filmmaker suffering a crisis of confidence as shooting approaches on a production he hasn't scripted yet. Surrounding Conti is a constellation of the important women throughout his life, a cavalcade of multigenerational, international babehood — mother (Sophia Loren), wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), signature star (Nicole Kidman), assistant/confidant (Judi Dench), journalist/temptress (Kate Hudson), and instigator of sexual awakening (Fergie) — each dutifully and dully granted their musical showcases.
Unlike better recent Broadway musical adaptations such as Marshall's own Chicago and especially the superior Dreamgirls, the musical sequences here don't mesh with the story in any cinematically satisfying way. Rather, the songs — themselves forgettable — are posited as interior monologues, so when the time comes, the film invariably cuts to a relatively static, staged set-up, turning the film audience into a Broadway one, minus live immediacy.
Nine pays lip service to filmmaking, but this isn't made for people who know or care about Fellini or 8 1/2. It's made for people who want to see a movie-star-laden spectacular, and they don't get much of one. Lewis, forced to sing and dance, ends his recent streak of high-level performances. Cruz and especially Cotillard survive this mess intact, but there's not enough movie for them here.