MOVIE REVIEW- Deep-six <i>Nine</i>: Pain by number


This year's 9 (not to be confused with "Nine," District 9, $9.99, or other nonary titles– did the studios all consult the same numerologist last year?– is a fantasy that's been animated better than it's been thought out.

You've seen the story many times. Scientists screwed up, the world blew up. A small band of survivors struggle to survive against some oppressive force without repeating the mistakes that almost destroyed civilization.

This time "all that's left of humanity" are eight-inch-tall rag dolls. They have googly, goggle-y eyes, and some have carved wooden hands and finely crafted metal parts; but everything is wrapped up in a tacky piece of burlap for a body.

With no sign of Pinocchio's good fairy, you may wonder how the Scientist who created these beings was able to give them life. There's some exposition near the end of the movie about their souls, but not how they're able to think and move, or what other bodily functions they're capable of. This would seem important if they're all that's left to repopulate the planet. Perhaps they can build more dolls using the Scientist's plans.

The ninth and last of the humanoids to be created, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) isn't quite finished when whatever happens to the Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) happens. 9 leaves his home, and my thought that he might meet Dorothy on the road to Oz proved prescient if not quite accurate. Instead, he meets 2 (Martin Landau), who barely begins to educate him before the Beast, a giant, mechanical insectoid, carries 2 off.

Others of the original eight find 9 and bring him to their "sanctuary" in the ruins of a church. Their leader is 1 (Christopher Plummer) because he's the oldest and wisest, but he's also a conservative isolationist who's afraid to venture outside. When 9 wants to try to rescue 2, 1 vetoes it, saying 2 "chose his own path."

"A group must have a leader," 5 (John C. Reilly) counsels 9, who retorts, "But what if he's wrong?" and sets off anyway. 5 goes with him, and they're in deep doo-doo when 7 (Jennifer Connelly) appears and slays the Beast.

Right in front of them is the dormant Machine. Later, they will learn it was responsible for all the bad stuff that happened when it turned against its creators. Right now, 9 is concerned that he's found a spot on the Machine where he can plug in a thingy (later identified as the Talisman) he found at his birthplace, and you know how young men are about sticking things into things.

The Machine comes to life (how was it deactivated in the first place?) and there's a series of action scenes in which some of our heroes are either killed or captured, leading to more action scenes of rescue attempts. A big flying monster adds a little variety, but the sequences still become monotonous– or by-the-numbers, if you will.

With the constant cutting to the chase, we usually know what our heroes are fighting against, but not what they're fighting for. In each scene, 9 is trying to survive or rescue a friend, but he has no long-term goal.

The Czech-inspired animation looks good, the action will please the kids, and the post-apocalyptic scenario may interest you if you're not tired of seeing it developed better in other films.

Director Shane Acker expanded 9 from an 11-minute short he made as a thesis film that won an Oscar nomination. Pamela Pettler, who collaborated on screenplays for Monster House and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, gets the credit, such as it is, for writing the long version. Burton and Timur Bekmambetov are among 9's producers, so Acker's short obviously inspired a lot of confidence. He may still prove worthy of it, but 9 is only a partial success.


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