Van Wilder, I mean, Ryan Reynolds, proves he can act in the metaphysical directorial debut from seasoned screenwriter John August. A three-time collaborator with Tim Burton and also the writer of the two — ahem — Charlie’s Angels movies, he puts Reynolds at the centre of three stories interconnected by the same cast playing very similar roles. He doesn’t manage to quite clear the final hurdle of making it all come together at the end, but the existential ponderings don’t detract from this being an insightful and rewarding experience.
Split into three parts, the first features Reynolds as crime TV series actor who manages to burn his house down, go on a drugs bender and crash his car. Placed under house arrest, he is visited by his publicist (Melissa McCarthy) and next door neighbour (Hope Davis) also under house arrest. While battling the no drink, no cigarette, no outside contact policy he has ghost-like experiences and suddenly starts finding all the written material in the house has an abundance of the number “9” in them. He confronts his publicist only to find something is not quite normal about his current life.
When this part suddenly ends posing more questions than answers, August then turns his attention to Reynolds as a television screenwriter and star of a documentary about trying to bring his story to screen before part three in which Reynolds is on a family trip in the woods but has to go looking for help on his own when his car breaks down. Using the same actors in all three means themes recur, such as McCarthy’s trio of characters in need of Reynolds’s and Hope Davis trying to lure him away from her, and in the conclusive part August tries to bring it all together in a metaphysical sense around the number nine. While this might leave most viewers perplexed, there is plenty to enjoy here.
Audiences will either view it as ideal for inward and outward debate or a rambling mess.
Reynolds plays the off-the-rails actor and screenwriting geek exceptionally well, making the first two parts absorbing. Particularly well done is the reality show style of the second, as August films it with captions and voiceovers as though it is an episode of a series. He takes pot shots at the way television bosses treat those providing the programming as well as how power can be taken away so quickly from those who think they have it. When August begins his wrapping up process in the third part, deliberately interrupting the story and narrative with pieces from the first two, it detracts from the developing interest in the new characters but is all part of his larger plan.
Is this plan well laid enough? Probably not. Like The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006), audiences will either view it as ideal for inward and outward debate or a rambling mess. I would prefer to side with the former, especially given August’s littering of all parts with references to the others which will only make things clearer on a second or third sitting. Without that benefit now, it would be too easy to dismiss The Nines and with Reynolds putting in such a fine performance in a tough film throughout, it would be unfair to label August as being unsuccessful in his bold move for a directorial debut. It may one day be ruled out as collapsing under it’s own lofty ambitions, but it is more likely to be celebrated in the same way as a David Lynch offering such as Mulholland Drive (2001). The Nines isn’t as clever, but there is the same mark of assured quality.