A popular television star on the cop show Crime Lab, Gary (Ryan Reynolds) is in the process of messing up his life. He burns some of his ex-girlfriend's clothes in a barbecue only for the fire to burn down her house after he leaves it unchecked, then off he goes to buy some crack. When he approaches a dealer, Gary reassures him that he just plays a policeman on T.V., then picks up a prostitute and takes her home. After an hour or two of debauchery, he awakens in a panic, phoning the emergency services to ask what do about his missing belly button. He doesn't know the half of it, or if he does, he has forgotten....
A strange little film about the creative impulse and what it means to be responsible for the work you have generated, The Nines was John August's feature length directorial debut after years of screenwriting duties, so you would think he would know better than most what it was like to fashion characters and guide them through the lives you have set up for them. At first glance the film is three stories in one, each with Reynolds cast in the lead role: first the T.V actor Gary, then T.V. writer Gavin, and finally successful games designer Gabriel.
But are they all the same person? Essentially, yes, with different personalities. The computer games industry has been selling the film rights to their properties for years, but few of the resulting movies have captured the sense of playing a one of those games, with only really Groundhog Day taking the concept of playing God in such a format and running with it. The Nines comes close, however, with each of the three Reynolds incarnations creating characters other than themselves: Gary has his role on the cop show, Gavin is trying to get a T.V. show off the ground, and Gabriel has a thriving programming career.
The film is nicely observed about the ins and outs of the entertainment world and what goes on behind the scenes - August knows of which he speaks, evidently - but its theology verges on the simplistic once the clouds of obfuscation begin to lift. Gary is under house arrest after crashing his car while under the influence, and a P.R. woman, Margaret (Melissa McCarthy) is on hand to guide him through his confinement, but she seems to have access to far more information about the bigger picture than he does. And not only the information about where he stands legally, but of his place in the world as well.
As Gary's story finishes with an apocalyptic flourish, Gavin's begins as what looks to be a reality television show about the making of his new series, a series he has built around none other than McCarthy, playing herself, but hits a snag when the execs want to go ahead but without her and with someone slimmer in the lead role. Cue much soul searching for Gavin as he wonders how he can make his dream project and let Melissa down easily - which he does not. At last, in the Gabriel segment, all the strands come together as we discover who Reynolds has been playing and the siginificance of his machinations leave us wondering whether we can get along without him. If The Nines doesn't achieve Donnie Darko levels of mystery and instead ends up looking like some New Age fairytale, it hits a few high notes of oddness along the way nevertheless. Music by Alex Wurman.