Few network television series are as gripping, to me, as a good inside-dope dramatization of what goes on behind the scenes of network television. In the best episode (out of three) of the weirdly engrossing head-scratcher of a metaphysical puzzle movie The Nines, Ryan Reynolds plays a frazzled writer-producer who is out to get a new show on the air. He has promised the lead role to his friend (Melissa McCarthy), who is perky and plus-size, but the network brass, represented by a conniving Hope Davis, wants her replaced with a conventional babe. Reynolds, who showed a light spark of charisma in Blade: Trinity, here proves that he's an incisive actor. He makes the hero at once fey, knowing, and clueless, an artist who thinks he's playing Machiavellian politics when the politics have only just begun to play him.
The other mysteriously linked episodes of The Nines aren't as fully realized, but I got caught up in the way they echo, mirror, and spill over into one another. In the first, Reynolds is a TV star stuck in the purgatory of house arrest after a drug bust; in the third, he's a videogame designer stranded, when his car fritzes out, with his wife and child. All three stories feature McCarthy and Davis, in different roles, doing battle over Reynolds, who is always some form of ''creator.'' There are even hints he could be, you know, the Creator. (It's that kind of movie.) But John August directs it briskly, as a gossip-era Twilight Zone of image and reality. You'll go ''Huh?'' but you won't feel cheated. B