Review: 'Nine'

(One-and-a-half stars)

Rob Marshall (of "Chicago" fame) lays a big Christmas goose-egg with this frazzled and frenetic adaptation of the 1982 stageplay of the same name.

Daniel Day-Lewis does his charming best to carry this misogynist tale, based on Fellini's classic "8 1/2," as famous -- and infamous -- film director Guido Contini who has a disabling case of writer's block. His new film "Italia" will star Italian bombshell Claudia (Nicole Kidman), but it's anyone's guess over the advent of a script, a story or a start date.

While juggling the cosmic complexities of cinema verite, Guido semi-balances a hefty love life that includes ex-leading lady and current wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), neurotic mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz) and the aforementioned starlet with whom Guido has had relations. Add the sultry ghost of his beloved mother (Sophia Loren), a kittenish Vogue reporter (Kate Hudson) and voice-of-reason costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench) and you've got yourself one exacting harem.

The petulant philanderer attempts to get his mojo back and put the "Maestro" back on top while the rest of us are subjected to a series of strident, overwrought dance numbers with little in the way of catch or class. The project looks luscious -- with fantastically cluttered sets and the casual cool of 1960s Rome -- but the insecurities of a world-class alley cat are more superficially disconcerting than entertaining.

I confess to enjoying Day-Lewis' smile -- his tortured anti-heroes are so often mired in gloomy agony -- and the man can carry a tune of sorts. Cruz brings a refreshing fire to her neglected lover and Cotillard does her level best as the scorned wife who describes her wayward mate in one damning phrase: "an appetite."

Kidman is wasted, her uncomfortably slinky sashay distracting. Dench adds grace but the part is all wrong for her soberly brilliant gifts.

The scripting is tired and repetitive, the migraine-inducing music lacks magic (hello, it's a musical!) and the narrative structure's a mess. What should have been one of the best films of the year is one of the worst -- color me bummed.

Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and adult themes. 1 hour, 58 minutes.

— Jeanne Aufmuth

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