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Film review: First-rate cast saves 'Nine' tedious stories

Published: Friday, Dec. 30 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Elpidia Carrillo stars as Sandra, a quick-tempered prisoner, in the sometimes tiresome ensemble drama, "Nine Lives."

Magnolia Pictures

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NINE LIVES — ** 1/2 — Elpidia Carrillo, Kathy Baker, Robin Wright Penn; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, violence, brief sex, brief drugs).

Some stories work better than others in "Nine Lives," and half of them go nowhere and quickly grow tiresome.

In that regard, this ensemble drama is similar to the other two films by writer-director Rodrigo Garcia, the son of celebrated Columbian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His 2000 debut "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" was also hit-and-miss, and his 2001 follow-up, "Ten Tiny Love Stories," was more of a miss.

However, what saves "Nine Lives" is a first-rate cast, which includes Oscar-winning actresses Sissy Spacek and Holly Hunter, cast members from television's "Deadwood" and "Veronica Mars," and veteran Hispanic actors Elpidia Carrillo and Miguel Sandoval.

The first of the nine stories is perhaps the best, with Sandra (Carrillo), a quick-tempered inmate awaiting visitation from her daughter.

Elsewhere, Diana (Robin Wright Penn), a pregnant woman, runs into a former flame (Jason Isaacs) while shopping for groceries, and cancer victim Camille (Kathy Baker) is terrified by the prospect of facing medical procedures. And Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) has sacrificed her college career and her personal life to take care of her invalid father (Ian McShane).

The one story of strife between a married couple (Hunter and Stephen Dillane), as well as the segment in which Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning play mother and child, are both rather weak.

But Garcia, who got his start in film as a photographer, does favor naturalistic, continuous takes, which makes the film feel more organic. (Although watching Wright Penn circle a shopping cart around a supermarket for 10 minutes gets both dizzying and wearying.)

You do wish Garcia had spend a little more time with some of the characters, particularly Baker's sympathetic, terminal-illness patient, and Carrillo's fiery prisoner. And even though Spacek pops up in two of the story lines, she seems underutilized.

"Nine Lives" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity and crude sexual slang terms, some brief acts of violence (overheard, as well as some restraint), some brief sexual contact, and some brief drug content (prescription drug abuse and use of an intravenous needle). Running time: 112 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com