As a story, 'The Nines' never adds up

John August's directorial debut delivers absurdly cosmic themes that this movie can't sustain.

In the midst of his foolish harangue against "2001: A Space Odyssey," film critic John Simon did manage to get off one nifty turn of phrase, dismissing Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece as "a shaggy God story."

Since that was the wrong film to waste on such a fine pun, I've waited ever since for the right film. Finally, I've found it, and it's called "The Nines."

So unspeakably bad is screenwriter John August's debut as director, so hilariously unaware is the film of its overweening pretensions that it's tempting to want to deem it a Hollywood writer's fever dream that can be cured with a little editing, a bit of rest and relaxation – or something, anything.

But no. August, whose script for "Go" toyed with loop-the-loop time structure and a basket of narrative tricks, has decided to go whole hog into an undercooked, mainstream version of one of David Lynch's recent ventures in dream-within-dream conundrums (such as his brilliant "Inland Empire").

In this case, it involves Gavin, a TV writer  whose reality is apparently split between three characters: His own; that of a callow TV actor named Gary, sentenced to house arrest in Gavin's vacant home; and Gabriel, the character in Gavin's pilot, which the network seems hot to buy.

What starts as Gary's downhill spin from fame to tabloid shame morphs into Gavin's ultimately hopeless efforts to sell his show. There's a strong hint at what makes the network decide to drop the show like a hot potato: Gabriel, seemingly a nice family man whose SUV goes kaput in the woods with his family in tow, is finally posited as no less than God himself (as if the three G-named characters weren't enough of a clue).

Do you have all that?

If not, neither does August. For unlike Lynch's ingenious trust in himself and his audience's abilities to get lost in a maze of possibilities and find eventual escape, "The Nines" (whose title never really computes) is finally lost inside its stumbling efforts to wrap stories within stories, and deliver absurdly cosmic themes that the movie simply can't sustain.

Lost, too, are Ryan Reynolds, whose straining efforts to play all three G-men lends new meaning to the term multitasking, and usually reliable costars Hope Davis and Melissa ("The Gilmore Girls") McCarthy.

Davis and McCarthy, in particular, are talented enough to have many tens after this "Nines" is long forgotten. Grade: F

• Rated R for language, some drug content, and sexuality.

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