No one at this point is expecting the true heir of Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen to step out of the shadows and resurrect the Hollywood musical once and for all, but did we have to get saddled with the consistently joyless Rob Marshall as the genre’s most visible advocate? Here is a filmmaker so unimaginative in his approach to rhythm and space that an attentive viewer could easily learn to predict the speed with which the camera somnambulates through all his dream- and stage-bound numbers. Armed with nothing but glitzy Broadway lighting and TV-commercial editing to distract us from our boredom, it’s no wonder his big set pieces are inserted between thinly written slabs of narrative, and brought off with a let’s-get-this-over-with hurriedness.

Marshall’s third feature, an adaptation of the Tony-winning Nine, channels Fellini’s 8 1/2 as it follows an iconic Italian movie director (Daniel Day-Lewis) whose creative well has run dry. The subject matter registers as ironic, since Marshall never invests enough human feeling for us to believe he could relate to an artist’s torment. The film quickly collapses once we realize it’s just a series of dull encounters between the protagonist and the women pining after him, and that the songs and choreography are as trite as the screenplay’s misogyny. A high-wattage cast would seem to guarantee a few sparks, but anyone familiar with Marshall’s oeuvre will know better. Only a filmmaker capable of making a fool out of Gong Li could knock Penélope Cruz and Nicole Kidman off their pedestals.

Opens December 18


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