For a film director who is, we're told, creatively blocked, Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) has a rich panorama of images cascading about his brain. Most are of the women in his life dancing about elaborate stages in corsets - except, as befits an Italian man of the 1960s, his beloved Mamma (Sophia Loren) and his betrayed wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard), whose hairdo and ladylike demeanor resemble that of the swan-necked Audrey Hepburn.
Otherwise, more corsets appear in the movie Nine than in your average Victoria's Secret fashion show. The movie is Rob Marshall's adaptation of the twice-produced Broadway musical, which itself was an outgrowth of Federico Fellini's 1963 Italian film classic 8 1/2. Marshall, whose previous films include the popular but unarresting adaptation of the stage hit Chicago and the visually beautiful but listless Memoirs of a Geisha, has gathered in Nine an impressive stable of on- and off-screen talent. But he never gets these various pieces to jell.
It's a bold move to film a musical with cast members who, apart from Fergie and Cotillard, are not known to possess any singing or dancing skills. The good news is that all of them are game; the bad news is that, for the most part, there appears to be good reason for most of them to have kept their singing confined to their shower stalls at home. Ultimately, nothing truly embarrassing makes it to the screen, but each musical number gives the appearance of having been doctored within an inch of its life with crazy pans, cuts, differing film stocks and jewel-bedecked costumes constantly shifting our eyes toward the next glittery doodad Marshall tosses in our path.
Each woman performs one song, except for Cotillard, who gets two, and each is a signature piece that defines, one-dimensionally, the character's role in the movie. In addition to Cotillard's wife, there is Judi Dench's longtime costume designer and Contini confidante, Penélope Cruz's sexpot mistress (singing while performing a bump and grind), Nicole Kidman's movie goddess modeled on Anita Ekberg, Kate Hudson's Vogue reporter (performing one of the new tunes written for the movie) and Fergie's beach-dwelling whore, who introduces little Italian boys to the mysteries of sex.
Day-Lewis also performs and dances two numbers, and they reveal the chinks in this great actor's performance arsenal. Most of the film's music is instantly forgettable, which can never be a good sign for a musical's longevity. Though there is plenty of razzle-dazzle onscreen, Nine is unlikely to ignite many sparks among viewers.