2007, R, 99 min. Directed by John August. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, Hope Davis.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 28, 2007
The Nines is the feature-film-directing debut from screenwriter John August (Go, Big Fish), but it feels much more like some Bizarro World collaboration between Jean-Paul Sartre and Charlie Kaufman, and not in a good way, either. Granted, no one can accuse August's film of being intellectually or metaphysically dull: There's enough tricky mind candy laced throughout the film to make audiences think they're watching something outlandishly clever, and initially the film plays like The Prisoner meets The Twilight Zone. However, by the time this three-segment film unspools its last, viewers are more likely to be scratching their heads than rushing off to enroll in Number 9 Is Just Number 6 Upside Down: Being, Nothingness, and Obscurantist BBC Television of the 1960s 101. Reynolds gives three rich, multilayered performances that never quite jell in the manner August clearly hoped. In the first, Reynolds plays a television actor in a tailspin who – after setting his home on fire and going on a wacky crack binge and flipping his car – ends up under not-his-house arrest, monitored by a cheerful, plucky PR flack (McCarthy) and wooed, sort of, by a semicreepy neighbor (Davis). There are intimations of madness afoot (What's with that Post-It Note that reads, "Look for the Nines," anyway?) before a sudden, inexplicable scene-change reveals Reynolds' next incarnation. This time he's a harried Hollywood show-runner who's trying to get his pilot aired on network TV, an uphill battle rife with betrayal and less-than-intriguing intrigue. (In another of the film's recursive themes, the show in question stars real-life actress Melissa McCarthy. And it's overseen by network snake Davis.) Finally, Reynolds appears as a vacationing video-game designer married to McCarthy's character and lost in the woods with Davis, who may or may not be evil. Got that? Me neither. August's film is a puzzle box all right, but it lacks a satisfying answer. We're led to believe multiple possibilities throughout the film, but no clear answer (or even a foggy one) is ever offered, which may be August's point: In Hollywood, nothing is ever as it seems, especially for writers. Which, of course, just gives more ammunition to those who think writers are self-indulgent, whiny wing nuts who'd be better served – and better serve – by relocation to some unnamed island overseen by Patrick McGoohan and, perhaps, Robert McKee. (John August and Ryan Reynolds will be present at the two Friday night screenings.)