Let's play word association: Federico Fellini. Italian movies. Beautiful women, womanizing men. Cigarettes, sunglasses, paparazzi.
The makers of "Nine" put about that much thought, or less, into this movie version of the 1982 Broadway musical, itself based on Fellini's semiautobiographical 1963 film, "8 1/2." Why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association recently nominated it for five Golden Globes is a mystery, since "Nine" turns foreign cinema into an American cliche.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a stressed-out filmmaker seeking solace in various bosoms. He juggles a mistress, Carla (Penélope Cruz), and a wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard, heartbreaking). Meantime, he ignores advice from his costume director (Judi Dench, rousingly good singing "Folies Bergère") and his dead mother (Sophia Loren, an authentic Neapolitan ingredient lost in this jar of Prego).
More women are introduced with one-dimensional musical numbers: a prostitute (pop singer Fergie), an actress (Nicole Kidman, briefly mesmerizing) and a fashion journalist played by Kate Hudson. She goes for broke singing "Cinema Italiano," one of three new songs from composer Maury Yeston, but the lyrics are hopeless: "The hip coffee bars, the sleek women in Positano / Guido's the ultimate uomo Romano!"
Neither director Rob Marshall ("Chicago") nor writers Michael Tolkin ("The Player") and the late Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") provide much insight into Contini, a character with a rich cinematic history. Fellini's film set the template; Bob Fosse personalized it in his brilliant "All That Jazz" (1979); and Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories" (1980) found the link between Italian machismo and Jewish neurosis.
This Contini is a cartoon, which leaves the usually magnificent Day-Lewis with little to do but sing (not his forte) and mangle his accent (he sounds Russian). "Nine" isn't exactly a travesty - it's just a banality.