The Italians didn’t invent the virgin/whore dichotomy but they believe in it more literal-mindedly than anyone else. Their patriarchal and Catholic-guilt-ridden culture is a strange subject for Hollywood. I’ll admit I’ve never seen Fellini’s 8½, but it’s the source of all this foolery, every cliche – the saintly mother, the long-suffering wife, the vulgar mistress, the friendly neighborhood whore, the token crass American, the nebulous muse. At least Fellini had the excuse of drawing from his own life. Who thought that turning this material into a lavish musical was a good idea, I don’t know, but everything about the film Nine is misguided, from Daniel Day-Lewis’s Chef Boyardee accent to the sight of that sexless old hatchet Judi Dench dolled up Folies Bergere style. First problem, the songs aren’t very good. Second, insurmountable problem, none of the leading ladies can sing. The only one who doesn’t make an embarrassment of herself is Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, who just happens to be a professional pop singer. The third terrible problem is terrible, terrible miscasting. Nicole Kidman wears more padding than Eddie Murphy in a futile attempt to evoke Anita Ekberg. Kidman doesn’t have the figure for it – she’s tall, lean and flat-chested, all straight lines and angles. Nor does she have the personality of a sex-kitten. She’s at her best playing refined, neurotic intellectuals. I like her very much, but she’s simply not the coochy-coo type. Marion Cotillard’s spurned wife is all doe-eyed and weepy. Kate Hudson is a useless piece of flotsam dredged up to add a bit of extra celebrity wattage to the marquee. Sophia Loren, as close to a living goddess as anyone could get, is given nothing to do except stand there, looking saintly and wise. The only good thing about the picture is Penelope Cruz. Although her yowling and jiggling begs for one of those cartoon hooks to whisk her offstage, at least she’s having fun. She’s only actress perfectly cast – playing passionate, sensual and needy is right up her alley, and she musters enough enthusiasm to act as though she were in a real movie. Is that worth the price of admission? No. Go rent Elegy or Volver.