Nine coulda been a contender. The cast of multiple award winners includes Daniel Day Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson and Penélope Cruz. And Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas. The director is Rob "Chicago: Best Picture" Marshall. It's based on a hit Broadway musical and strikes a note of would-be high art in its tale of frustrated director Guido Contini (Day Lewis), a character inspired by Federico Fellini. The production even has the weight of the mighty Weinsteins behind it.
It's a shame, then, that the whole thing is so godawful. There is a scene in 'I'm Alan Partridge' in which Norwich's finest finds himself unwillingly propositioned by a couple of swingers. Alarmed to discover they're "sex people", he retreats from the lady's keen advances, blurting out "don't rub your fanny on me!" It's not that Alan doesn't like sex per se. It's that she's so forward, so over the top, so cheesily would-be erotic. Watching Nine, you'll understand his feelings precisely.
Penélope Cruz is one of the most beautiful, attractive and hitherto classy women on the entire planet. To watch her grinding her crotch at the camera like a Pussycat Doll gone wild, while breathing "Cootchie, cootchie, cootchie coo, I've got a plan for what I'm gonna do to you" is a profoundly embarrassing experience. The script makes a clumsy attempt to pre-empt such prudish criticism at one point by putting this view in the mouth of that old kill-joy, his Excellency the Pope: "You think we need to see so much sex." Yes, but there's sex, and then there's "sex people".
Although Cruz, as Guido's mistress Carla, is the most self-abasing of the lot, all the women in the maestro's life worship the ground he walks on. We're told they're "strong women" who simply find him irresistible, but there is no evidence whatsoever of either strength on their part or irresistibility on his. Day-Lewis, often a very attractive man, just seems tired and spent here, and is not helped by a weak script. The women, though played by world class actresses, are cardboard cut-outs seen exclusively in terms of their relationship to Guido - the long-suffering wife, glamorous muse, smitten journalist, earthy prostitute, adoring mother, devoted confidante, over-sexed mistress. A man and his muses is a conceit that has been done to death, and if it is to work, there needs to be something special about the man.
Assessed as a musical, Nine is almost entirely a flop. There are barely three memorable songs, the best of the bunch perhaps surprisingly being a new number, 'Cinema Italiano', written by Maury Yeston for the film version, shot in a frenzy of MTV editing and performed with some gusto by Kate Hudson, who is one of the few actors here who actually looks at ease dancing as well as singing. Come back, Chicago, we retract any harsh word we ever whispered about you - at least Catherine Zeta Jones wasn't afraid to belt out a number and tackle some proper choreography.
If you want a modern take on the musical that does melodrama and kinetic spectacle, with an artist's muse and a love story at the heart of the whole daft sparkly package, Moulin Rouge is what you're looking for. Nine barely compares to the Moulin Rouge 'Lady Marmalade' music video, with its lingerie clad ensemble of Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Lil Kim looking the picture of understated elegance by comparison.