When it was announced that Kevin Spacey was going to star in a film in which he switched bodies with a cat, I was stoked! You’re telling me one of the greatest working actors today is going to star in a loose remake of “The Shaggy Dog,” this time in the form of a cat? You bet your ass I’m going to be there opening weekend! Call it morbid curiosity, but I don’t feel like I can go through life without seeing the film in which Kevin Spacey portrays a cat. Tack on Barry Sonnenfield, the director responsible for the “Men in Black” films, “The Addams Family” films and “Get Shorty,” and you’ve got my full attention!
“Nine Lives” didn’t get the Barry Sonnenfield that directed those hits, but the one responsible for dreck such as “RV” and “Wild Wild West.” More “RV,” as this film plays it as safe as that family comedy, though this one doesn’t even close to being as annoying. Truth be told, “Nine Lives” is cute and fluffy (pardon the pun), but not much of a talking cat feature. Oh sure, it’s the main story, but it surprisingly takes a backseat to a tedious subplot revolving around corporate backstabbing. The direction is discursive and limp, not the traits a film about a talking cat needs.
The setup is as expected. Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is a stuffy businessman too focused on his company and his ego to spend time with his family. Think of him as a PG version of his famous asshole boss roles from “Swimming with Sharks” and “Horrible Bosses.” To appease his wife, Lara (Jennifer Garner), and buy the love of his daughter, Rebecca (Malina Weissman), he begrudgingly buys her a cat for her birthday. Since karma is the driving force behind this film, he winds up buying a cat from a wacked out and magical cat whisperer played by Christopher Walken, of course. He warns Tom to not take a business call, but immediately see his daughter, which of course he does the former. He’s struck by lightning atop his company’s skyscraper and plummets a few floors below, knocking him into a coma. He awakens inside the body of Mister Fuzzypants and is told by Walken that, if he doesn’t redeem himself with his family, he’s stuck inside the cat forever.
That’s all well and good, setting the film up for numerous cat antics. Tom will try to convince his family his soul has embodies Mister Fuzzypants by trying to spell out his name (in pen, yarn, and refrigerator magnets), but they’ll ignore the signs because they’re sane people who don’t think their cat is the reincarnation of their beloved Tom. There’s not much inspiration in these gags, but they make kids laugh and are light enough for parents to enjoy. There is one inspired moment where Tom pours himself a kitten bowl of whiskey and gets drunk, pissing on the rug and pondering if the cat’s soul is stuck in his body. More of that please!
These moments are surprisingly fleeting, as Sonnenfield shifts his attention to Tom’s company, Firebrand. He built his empire of sporting equipment from the ground up, but his ego is holding the company back. He’s too concerned with building the biggest skyscraper instead of sales and strategic planning. Ian Cox (Mark Consuelos), his next-in-command, rightfully tries to call attention to these pressing issues, but is threatened to be fired. Ian takes the next logical step in the mind of a serial killer and assists in Tom’s freefall. Why!?!
The moral compass of the story is directed via the redemption of Tom Brand; a smart man whose ego has gotten the better of him. He’s neglected his family and is slowly driving his company into the ground. Him being stuck in the cat forces him to address his failing marriage and slippery relationship with his daughter. As for tackling his business practices, that’s why his son, David (Robbie Amell), works for him, so he can see how hard his son has to fight to keep the company afloat.
Instead, a vacuous villain is introduced whose reasoning is anything but. Ian is justified in his belief that Tom is causing his own company to plummet and has good reasoning as to why it should go public (that way Tom is kept in line). Yes, him selling the company behind Tom’s back (when he’s in a coma, no less) and assisting in his possible death are heinous, but also superfluous. I shouldn’t be arguing the semantics of business practices in a review of a talking cat movie!
I understand the need for the stuffy businessman angle, but it doesn’t need to be fleshed out. It exists solely as the setup for the body transformation. That’s what everyone came to see. Kids don’t care one iota about corporate greed and backstabbing. They want to see a cat do cute things such as eat Fruity Pebbles and dance with a girl, and partake in gross-out gags such as pissing in a snooty woman’s purse. Those moments exist (sometimes assisted by horrendous CGI), but not as much as they should. While I heard the laughter of kids and parents in my screening, I also heard a lot of sighs of restlessness.
I’m not sure what Barry Sonnenfield’s intentions were. If he wanted to make a parody of talking cat movies, the film isn’t inspired enough. If he wanted to play it straight, the morality is corrupted due to the fact that Tom is surrounded by bigger assholes than he and that he doesn’t quite learn his lesson. He learns to spend more time with his family, but doesn’t change his professional ways whatsoever. Even his newfound pride in his son is slightly disheartening, as it doesn’t come from standing on his own two feet but in skydiving like a real man.
For a movie in which Kevin Spacey is trapped inside the body of a cat, “Nine Lives” sure is boring!
Final Rating: C-