I’ll bet you thought Hollywood stopped making movies about talking cats because… you know… no one likes them. Well, you’re wrong. Not only do talking cat movies still get made, now they star Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken.
Why the two Oscar-winning actors signed on to ‘Nine Lives’ is a mystery. Maybe it was a practical joke? Maybe they hoped director Barry Sonnenfeld still had some of the inventive comedic chops that he brought to ‘The Adams Family’, ‘Get Shorty’, and ‘Men in Black’ many moons ago? (Lord knows I miss that Barry Sonnenfeld.) Sadly, whatever the best intentions may have been that got this team of actually talented people together to make a talking cat movie, they failed. It’s a mess. You’re better off repeat-watching a cat gif on the internet for 90 minutes straight. That actually has a better chance of offering a surprise.
Spacey stars as a pre-Presidential (i.e. not quite as horrifying) Donald Trump-style business tycoon named Tom Brand. He’s great at talking fast, making deals, building buildings, spray-tanning, and owning expensive items. Sadly, he’s not that great at being a dad. (Awwww…!) Not that he doesn’t love his little girl (Malina Weissman), he’s just not good at scheduling her into his life. All he cares about is bling-bling. That’s why he’s on the rocks with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and why he’s in need of some karmic retribution.
While running late to his daughter’s birthday party, Brand gets some long overdue comeuppance. He tries to buy her a cat, but unfortunately wanders into the pet shop of a self-described “Cat Whisperer” (Walken) who can tell that the guy is no good. Next thing you know, Brand’s body is comatose in a hospital bed, but his mind is in the body of a cat named Mr. Fuzzypants. Armed with a Spacey voiceover only the audience can hear, that kitty will have to save his family and stop his business from being taken over. Cue the wackiness…
Yes, you read all that right. This is a real movie that got made based on that script. Movie stars even agreed to participate (although Walken’s appearance is brief and Spacey’s work is primarily a phoned-in voiceover, so fans of those two can at least take solace in the fact that their participation was minimal). If you want to see a real cat move awkwardly through the frame and then a CGI cat engage in slapstick, this is your movie! Admittedly, Sonnenfeld plays it as a candy-colored, fast-paced lark, like a cartoon come to life. So, it’s not something that you’re ever asked to take seriously until the inevitable weepy finale. That helps. Not much, but it helps.
Some of the humor has an odd darkness to appeal to parents, but in ways that feel wildly inappropriate for this particular kiddie genre. Spacey also gets a little angry and mean in his cat pun-heavy thoughts. It’s odd to see that here, as if Sonnenfeld and his cast somehow hoped to sneak some subversion into a movie about a cat learning to be a family man. Whatever the motivation, the material is awkward and certainly won’t be enough to win over any viewers who aren’t endlessly amused by the sight of cats doing silly things and getting hurt.
This is truly lowest common denominator stuff, and the fact that some genuinely talented Hollywood actors are involved just makes ‘Nine Lives’ even more insufferable rather than less. You can’t help but wonder what other, better movie that this exact cast and director could have made with the budget. Even if it wasn’t as commercial an idea as a movie about a kitty with grown-up thoughts, surely they would have delivered something that humans would want to see rather than merely tolerate.
There’s no real sense in getting too angry about a film like ‘Nine Lives’. It’s not the first talking pet movie preaching family values and it surely won’t be the last. The sad thing is seeing successful Hollywood folks reduced to making this movie. It’s not as if anyone involved dreamed of one day making the world’s greatest talking cat blockbuster. This was merely the best paycheck project available at the time. Even that feels tragic. When a multi-Oscar-winning actor like Kevin Spacey doesn’t have any projects on the table better than ‘Nine Lives’, something is wrong with the system. The folks behind this movie shouldn’t be blamed for wasting viewers’ time as much as the studio that wasn’t willing to pay them to do anything better. This is wrong, people! We need to find away to help these poor souls before they open a script titled ‘Nine Lives 2: Now with a Puppy’ and consider signing on.