The Nines truly is a film that defies description, albeit in not an entirely new and convincing manner. For instance, I could tell you that I just got done eating a chicken sandwich after consuming several mojitos and a beer, and at least with that statement, you could tell what it is that I’ve done, you know? But to be fair, The Nines decides to take on some daring filmmaking and storytelling, and does it in a way that you can’t help but want to watch it again, even a little.
Written by John August, who had been notorious for penning such films like both Charlie’s Angels films and several Tim Burton outings, August directed it in his initial effort. The film is actually three parts, all slightly tied into one another, though in no linear fashion to speak of, and the main cast inhabits roles in all three parts. Part one finds Gary (Ryan Reynolds, Smokin’ Aces), a successful television actor, engaged in a drug-soaked frenzy that leads him to crash his car and go under house arrest; Margaret (Melissa McCarthy, Gilmore Girls) is his handler designed to keep him on the straight and narrow during this time. Gary finds Sarah (Hope Davis, About Schmidt), a neighbor next door as his connection to the outside world in more ways than he can anticipate. In part two, Reynolds is Gavin, an aspiring television show creator, Davis plays Susan, a network television producer, and McCarthy plays herself as the focus of the show. And in part three, Reynolds is Gabriel, a video game producer, McCarthy plays his wife Mary, while Elle Fanning (Déjà vu) plays their daughter. What, no Davis? That’s what you think! She plays Sierra, a woman who helps Gabriel try to find help for his family on a deserted mountain road.
It’s a little bit of an oversimplification, as the film looks at things from several different areas in August’s life. Part two covers August’s quest to bring a show called D.C. to life several years earlier, and the things that occur seem to focus a little bit on the metaphysical side of things, holding to some sort of spiritual beliefs that August might possess. And in this case, he seems to think that Ryan Reynolds is God. Which we all know is true, right?
In actuality, August seems to put together quite a set of challenges for his actors. Some of them sing, some dance, others appear in handheld shots while others are in static shots. Some of them walk the streets with a camera following them, the result of stolen shots. It’s approaching things from a wide variety and balance. And the performances aren’t too bad either, Reynolds continues to attempt to distinguish himself by not being just another pretty face, Davis continues to add to her varied resume, but the big surprise appears to be McCarthy. I’d been more than familiar with her work in Gilmore Girls, but she is a revelation as a kind, caring, sometimes rough, but with a very firm hand, one that’s worthy of attention and respect. She plays herself in a third of the film, so that should help too.
With these performances and this cast, what holds The Nines back from being excellent is the fact that it’s too abstract. The performances are good and all, but the film is really nothing more than three vignettes set against good performances, but if August’s idea was to develop some sort of synergy in the stories, it’s definitely missing from what I can tell, but at least the intent was admirable. The film’s infatuation with the number nine is also slightly annoying too, as if August listened to Beatles music just once too often. But he’s the doer, I’m the reviewer.
Well, it’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that is a little bit more active than I was expecting, but that’s not in a bad way. Surround activity is decent, though the soundtrack’s directional effects and subwoofer activity is more active. Not too much speaker panning is employed, the dialogue stays focused in the center channel, and it’s all good, as the kids tend to say.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Nines employs various film stocks and methods, and for a standard definition disc, it looks pretty good. There’s a distracting amount of film grain from time to time, and the image tends to appear slightly soft, but this an otherwise decent and presentable transfer.
Quite a few actually, starting with not one, but two commentaries with August. The first is with Reynolds, and he seems to be a little on the low key side for this track I think. It apparently was designed to be a downloadable iPod commentary for playback when the film was in theaters, so I certainly like the idea, and August also warns anyone of spoilers they might encounter, along with some detail on the production as it arises. It’s a slightly quiet and uneventful commentary, but it does the job, so to speak. The second is with August, Editor Doug Crise and McCarthy, and it’s a bit more jovial in nature and material. Everyone talks about how they got to the film and McCarthy asks some questions about the process to stoke a little more discussion, but at the end of the day, this is about three people who seem to like each other an awful lot, who enjoyed watching and making this movie, and you can tell from here. A short film that August made called God follows, and it apparently is slightly dated also. This also includes commentary by August, Crise and McCarthy, but the film itself is only about ten minutes, so it might not necessary be needed. Still though, the premise of the short is to turn God into a best friend of the opposite sex, played by McCarthy, who is supposed to be working at a Jamba Juice. The dynamic of the film is a little more concrete than the feature, and focuses entirely on McCarthy. While it might be a couple minutes too long, it’s still very cute and should be checked out. Nine deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) are next, totaling about 15 minutes in length. There’s a warmer introduction to some of the characters in the film, along with an alternate take on Gary for a scene, but the omitted scenes seem fairly interesting and are worth checking out. A stills gallery is next, along with some script to storyboard to screen comparison footage that lasts about five minutes. The script function is cool, though the other two screens could have been bigger. A 15-minute making of look at the film is up last, discussing what the film is all about, along with how August is a visionary and all the other actors gush over one another, nothing more than the usual stuff.
What The Nines has in its intent, it seems to lack in its execution, with plot ideas that are a little on the confusing side. The performances in it are courageous and touch upon several different genres, and the technical qualities of the disc are decent, while the supplements are really bigger and better than expected. I would tread lightly when it comes to the final product though, after 99 minutes, you’re liable to say “what the hell is this all about?”