By Kit Bowen
TheMovieKit.com

As movie musicals go, “Nine” doesn’t necessarily have that wow factor, but it certainly has enough terrific performances to make it entertaining.

Starting with Daniel Day-Lewis, as Italian film director Guido Contini. He sings, he dances (sort of; he jumps around on things a lot), and mostly embodies a director who has lost his creative spark, as his life spirals out of control. The Broadway musical is based on Italian film director Federico Fellini’s 1963 classic, semi-autobiographical film “8 ½,” which explores the director’s creative free fall – and the seven women who move in and out of his life in a dreamlike state.

In the case of “Nine,” these women are: Carla (Penelope Cruz), Contini’s sensual but unstable mistress; Luisa (Marion Cottilard), his patient and devoted wife; Claudia (Nicole Kidman), his frequent leading lady and muse; Lilli (Judi Dench), his longtime costume designer and confidante; Stephanie (Kate Hudson), a flirty Vogue journalist; Saraghina (Stacey Ferguson), a prostitute from Contini’s childhood; and finally, his mother (Sophia Loren). Day-Lewis is once again a marvel. There truly isn’t anything this Oscar-winning actor can’t accomplish, authenticating everything he tries his hand at.

All the women do a nice job in their roles as well – and more importantly, in their musical numbers – save for Kidman, who just seems sorely out of place. Granted, as songs go in “Nine,” she has the worst one to sing, in my opinion, so it may be harder for Kidman to shine than the rest. But still, she doesn’t hit the mark as a sexy Italian siren (based on the real ‘60s Italian film star Claudia Cardinale) at all. Cruz has the most to chew on as the fetching but insecure Carla, distraught she can’t be in Contini’s life more, and she totally sells her libidinous song “A Call from the Vatican,” swinging from ropes in lingerie. Cotillard gets to use her pipes again, after winning the Oscar for playing Edith Piaf, but as Luisa, she doesn’t have as much range to play with. It’s basically one emotion for Luisa – beaten down – and Cotillard seems wasted since we know she can give so much more than that. Dench is always good as Lilli, the voice of reason, while Loren stands around looking regal. The singer Fergie naturally nails her musical number “Be Italian” like the pro she is, but doesn’t really have to do much acting beyond that. For me, the real stand out is Hudson. Not only does she have the best song, “Cinema Italiano,” she is also so damn cute performing it.

Director Rob Marshall, who spearheaded the Best Picture winner “Chicago,” understands how to translate a musical for the big screen, and with “Nine” he delivers again, even if he borrows a little from another source, namely “All That Jazz.” Similar themes, similar influential women, similar dreamlike state – and similar stark sets with back-lighting and picturesque tableaus, as many of the numbers are shot on the fictional Stage 5 at Cincetta Studios in Rome. Of course, “Nine” has its own individual merits, too. Marshall really captures that Italian 1960 spirit and brings all the elements together as a cinematic experience. Since the Academy voters love musicals, I’m sure it’ll have a shot at Best Picture, but for me, Broadway musicals-turned-films can be hit or miss. I’m one of the few people in the world who didn’t really love “Chicago.” Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s wanting to see the choreography on stage, up close and personal, but “Nine” doesn’t knock my socks off overall.