What, exactly, is life? Why are we here? What significance do The Nines hold? And when did Ryan Reynolds become a good actor? The Nines is the sort of film that raises many questions, that answers very few of them clearly and that many will write off as pretentious. They've probably got a point. The synopsis-proof plot wanders through time and reality, loops back on itself, meanders through itself and then runs not so much in parallel as in parallel universes. However at 99 minutes, it never outstays its welcome, is supremely well played and the questions it prompts are stimulating rather than ponderous.
The structure is of three separate short films with the same key trio of actors — Reynolds, Davis, McCarthy — crossing paths. The first film, The Prisoner, sees Reynolds as a "troubled" TV star placed under house arrest after a Winehouse-esque public incident. His only company is a flirtatious neighbour (Davis) and an annoyingly perky publicist (McCarthy). In the second, Reality Television, Reynolds is the creator of a new TV show starring his best friend McCarthy, although network director Davis wants her recast before the pilot becomes a series. In the final chapter — which bears more than a slight resemblance to the pilot show — Reynolds is a videogame designer out for a walk with his wife (McCarthy) and daughter (Dakota Fanning's apparently equally talented sister Elle). Their car breaks down, Reynolds goes for help and he runs into Davis as a hitchhiker with the answers to a few of life's, and the film's, riddles.
Reynolds is a revelation — is this really the same man that did things with bulldog sperm in Van Wilder? — McCarthy is terrific and Davis, as always, is one of Hollywood's genuine pleasures. Even if the lack of subject matter — or possible excess of subject matter — puts you off, this trio brings more than enough to the table to compensate. Fascinating, frustrating, poignant and uplifting ... which makes it much like life, I suppose.