The Nines

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PARK CITY -- Reality TV, addiction, global annihilation, the god-like power an author exerts over his or her creations and sci-fi spirituality make their way into "The Nines," a film that has a unique sensibility and consistently confounds a viewer's expectations. Writer-director John August initially conceived of the project as three separate ideas, and therein lies a problem: The three sections, which feature the same four actors playing different roles with overlapping phrases and ideas, don't coalesce into a cohesive whole or stand on their own.

August deserves credit for his originality and ambition, but the film's quasi-religious overtones, particularly in the final segment, as well as the absence of well-known actors (except for Hope Davis) make theatrical distribution doubtful. It should have a good run on the festival circuit and find an audience on cable.

In the opening segment, "The Prisoner," Gary (Ryan Reynolds), a bland TV actor with a fondness for crack, burns his house down and ends up under house arrest with a perky publicist (Melissa McCarthy.) Reynolds, not limited by his athletic build and all-American good looks, also plays Gavin and Gabriel in the following segments. Davis, as the temptress next door, breaks out in song apropos of nothing and the number nine takes on ominous meanings.

Part 2, "Reality Television," is by far the strongest and most fully realized. August, a former television writer, is in his element and the writing is first rate. He understands the milieu; its superficiality, back stabbing, fickleness and the art of bald faced lying.

Gavin, a seemingly mild-mannered writer on the rise, feels responsible for the universe he creates and the characters that inhabit it. Sometimes he can't distinguish between truth and his own fiction. If only there was a delete button in real life for Susan (Davis), the devious network executive who forces him to fire his best friend (McCarthy), a star of "Behind the Screen," a reality show. Susan yanks the program off the air without telling him and, during the shouting match that ensues, Gavin slaps her face, hard. This unanticipated eruption of violence is an example of how August turns the tables on the audience. One of the strengths of his script is the numerous twists and turns you don't see coming. Inventive and full of surprises, he's a talent to watch.

In Part 3, Gabriel's car breaks down. When he jogs up the road to get help, he encounters Sierra (Davis). At first, it seems she's endangering herself by offering to help a stranger but, in a stunning turn of events, she takes him into the woods and drugs him with GHB.

His fellow travelers, characters we've seen in previous segments, perform an intervention and force him to give up his habit, an addiction to earthlings. This God -- or alien - claims he has "revised" humanity ninety times. Will he destroy his creation after 4,000 years of editing? If this is a metaphor for a writer's control over his characters and those damnable rewrites, it doesn't come off. At the end, audiences will find themselves more baffled than moved.

The Nines
A Jinks Cohen Company production
Credits: Writer/director: John August; Producer: Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen, Dan Etheridge; Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber; Music: Alex Workman; Co-producer: Todd King; Costume designer: Molly Elizabeth Grumman; Editor: Douglas Cries.
Cast: Gary/Gavin/Gabriel: Ryan Reynolds; Sarah/Susan/Sierra: Hope
Davis; Margaret/Melissa/Mary: Melissa McCarthy; Noelle: Elle Fanning.
No MPAA rating, running time 99 minutes.

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