Saturday, December 01, 2007

THE NINES - tricksy, smart, but not quite convincing

THE NINES is a movie that is tricksy and smart and gripping, in parts, but I was too often reminded of other movies that had covered the same ground more convincingly.

The movie was written and directed by Hollywood screen-writer John August (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, BIG FISH). It deals with issues of fact and fiction in a manner reminiscent of Charlie Kauffman movies. It deals with haunting coincidence in the manner of THE NUMBER 23. It satirises the Hollywood/network TV game in the manner of THE TRUMAN SHOW or EDTV. All these movies and more were swimming round my head during this film. The only thing that was genuinely new was the fact that Ryan Reynolds was given room to flex his acting chops, to great effect.

The movie has three inter-twining strands starring a trio of actors playing different actors, sometimes reminiscent of John August - sometimes just playing themselves. In the first strand, Reynolds plays a network TV star. He goes on a drug-fuelled binge and ends up under house arrest, being babyset by his publicist, played by McCarthy. His "desperate housewife" neighbour, played by Hope Davis, starts a flirtation with him, but it's soon clear that both she and the publicist hate each other and are hiding things from him. The tone of this strand is uneasiness - sort of similar to INLAND EMPIRE but infinitely more straightforward. There's a fair amount of spooooky seeing and hearing number nine everywhere but the reason for this is also straightforward. Hope Davis' character is jealous of McCarthy's overweight publicist. Ranked out of ten, she thinks Reynolds' TV star belongs with the nines.

The second strand sees Reynolds playing a TV writer based on the real-life John August. He's trying to get his pilot picked up by the network represented by Hope Davis' exec. The network want the writer to drop his best friend from the cast - Melissa McCarthy - and replace her with the more svelte real-life actress Dahlia Salem. She'll appeal more to the test audiences who loved the pilot - the ones who ranked it "in the nines". Reynolds' character's moral vacuity is captured on reality TV. He muses on the fact that while he plays god with his characters, for the reality TV producers, he's merely a puppet.

The TV pilot is about a wife (McCarthy) and a kid (Elle Fanning). The husband (Reynolds) leaves them in a forest to go call for help. He is intercepted by a hotter chick (Davis) who once again fears that his domesticated life with his fat wife is holding him back from his true potential. He's a video game designer who's over-stepping the boundaries in his self-designed Second Life.

I find the issues raised by THE NINES compelling. The increasing availability to consumers of virtual worlds. The moral redundancy of network TV and especially of reality TV shows. The superficiality of modern society. But John August never convinced me that he was fully in control of them. What's more, he retreads on ground that was broken by Kauffman almost a decade ago. All this, makes this a film that one can probably overlook.

THE NINES played Sundance 2007 and went on release in the US in August. It is currently on release in the UK.

1 comment:

  1. The overlapping storyline of the Nines resolves itself nicely at the end... and although Reynolds is a versatile, it was Melissa McCarthy who did a particularly great job of adding color to the whole thing.