The Nines

Just how winningly loopy is The Nines, the feature directorial debut of hotshot Go screenwriter John August? Let's just say that it opens with Ryan Reynolds' pretty-boy actor smoking crack with an obese African-American prostitute, setting his house ablaze, and crashing his car, and then it gets crazier with each passing moment. Reynolds, incidentally, plays three different roles, including a character based on August himself—part of the film is openly autobiographical—as do co-stars Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy. That seems like a surefire recipe for Butterfly Effect/I Know Who Killed Me-style camp, but as in the otherwise woeful Smokin' Aces, Reynolds proves surprisingly convincing. There may be hope for him yet.

The Nines cycles its three leads through three roles apiece in its three segments. In the first, Reynolds' self-destructive actor strikes up a friendship of convenience with mysterious neighbor Davis while under house arrest following the aforementioned orgy of destruction. In the second, which follows a pseudo-reality-show about the making of a television pilot, Reynolds plays a successful writer who is asked to fire friend McCarthy at the behest of backstabbing television executive Davis. In the final segment, Reynolds plays a video-game creator who discovers that he's far more powerful than he ever imagined.

August's film is quite possibly the looniest recent independent film this side of Southland Tales, and not just because it also decides to be a musical every once in a while. That should be a stirring endorsement for some and a stark warning for others. The increasing ubiquity of pop-surrealist puzzle movies like this is increasingly rendering traditional genres obsolete. The Nines flirts with comedy, drama, science fiction, showbiz satire, and pop metaphysics, but it ultimately belongs in a video-store section devoted to cinematic mindfucks, which are like cult movies, only stranger. Thanks to a clever script, appealing leads, and a light, playful tone, The Nines is so briskly entertaining that it's easy to overlook that there isn't much of substance underneath all the conceptual games and Philip K. Dick-inspired weirdness.

Key features: Deleted scenes, unedifying but agreeable separate August commentaries with Reynolds and with McCarthy and editor Doug Crise, and the smartass August short film "God" highlight a voluminous special-features package sure to please future Nines cultists.

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