Five pints (all between 5% and 7% ABV). One tequila-heavy Margarita. An entire flask of Tito’s Vodka. These are the things I consumed before/during Nine Lives, and I’m still not remotely drunk enough* to comprehend the made-for-Disney mindlessness that is Barry Sonnenfeld’s latest cat-tastrophy.
“But Matt, how can you deny the fuzzy-wuzzy charms of a Lil’ Bub cameo, coupled with Kevin Spacey’s aggravated voice acting!?” Well, it’s pretty G-D damn easy when you’re talking about a body-switch comedy sans any sort of ambitious humor, performance charisma or inherent weirdness. And what the f$&@ is a Lil’ Bub and why should I care? Congratulations to all the cast members who made an epic paycheck on this kitty-litter-stenched cat-nap, and if a hunking payday wasn’t motivation, then I hope any agents responsible are fired immediately. Forever barred from working in Hollywood, even with the desperation of Nic Cage.
Kevin Spacey (who seems like he only allowed one take for each scene) stars as a half-CGI-lump, half-fluffy-cat named Mr. Fuzzypants – well, OK. First he’s introduced as Tom Brand, a wealthy entrepreneur obsessed with building the tallest structure in North America (Or the world? Not important). His workaholic nature leads to forgotten birthdays and anniversaries, which he’s punished for when his soul is transplanted into a cat’s body after falling off his name brand, pet-project tower (better than death, I guess?).
Lucky for Tom, the cat he now inhabits (Mr. Fuzzypants) was meant to be a birthday present for his daughter, Rebecca (Malina Weissman), so he’s taken home by his current wife (Lara, played by Jennifer Garner). Day after day he tries to alert his family of the switch, but salvation can only be achieved if Tom proves his love and devotion to the family he neglected. The old care-for-your-family-or-forever-stay-a-cat gag, you know!
First of all, how did it take five writers to think-up a scene where Mr. Fuzzypants gets drunk off 50-year-old Scotch? You’d think with so many conflicting voices, someone would have keyed into the utter lunacy of Nine Lives, and driven this childish ridiculousness somewhere redemptively enjoyable. Yet, jokes are beyond the lowest-common denominator – Kevin-Spacey-cat pees in handbags and we’re supposed to laugh gleefully…even though Spacey sounds like he’s reading lines while counting his kitty-calamity bounty, and production values can’t even muster a realistic skyline (some unforgivably bad green-screening).
It took five ‘effing writers to string a scene together where one security guard moronically tasers another security guard in the leg, while attempting to snipe Mr. Fuzzypants in mid-air (a Deadshot-esque task). Five writers to have Mr. Fuzzypants bounce off an apartment entrance awning like a trampoline. FIVE WRITERS TO WRITE DIALOGUE FOR SPACEY NO DEEPER THAN, “HEY, HELP ME! I’M A CAT!” My, that must have been one “lively” writing room.
That said, I must ask why Hollywood hasn’t produced an entire feature where Christopher Walken does nothing but talk rationally to cats. Like, face-to-face, serious conversations. As the proprietor of Purrkins (yes, PURRkins) cat store (no other pets, just pussies), his character – Felix Perkins – is the only human who can interact with Brand’s feline form. This means you get to watch The Walken carry out civil conversations with a hissing animal, as paws swipe and Spacey frustratingly grumbles. On the basest, most asinine comedic level, Walken seems like the only actor who belongs in this hapless family comedy – maybe because Walken is the only performer crazy enough to show enthusiasm in such rejected Saturday-morning-cartoon material.
It’s not like some young up-and-comer got stuck directing Nine Lives, either. This is a Barry Sonnenfield joint, complete with atrocious animation (Robbie Amell couldn’t ride in a real elevator?), cat-poop gags and choky acting. Jennifer Gardner never seems terribly distraught over her husband’s life-threatening coma, while Malina Weissman remains curiously positive throughout the entire ordeal.
This is a kids movie, so themes of murder, corporate sleaziness and single parenting are squashed by “DADDY LOVES YOU!” niceties that play as sweet as cat-nip and apple pie. Sonnenfield’s vision bounces around without a care in the world, unflinching in the face of tonal constructs as his writing collective shows absolutely no deftness in balancing light quips with irrationally dark behavior. Spacey ends up playing a less-interesting Richard Branson in cat form, who tries to piss all over his problems in the most literal sense – and not a single person tries to stop him. Pure. F&$*ing. Genius.
And by “pure f&$*ing genius,” I mean “who in their right mind let EuropaCorp shoot themselves in the foot so epically.” I laughed, but only because my alcoholic daze would have made me laugh at anything Sonnenfield threw on screen. Entire scenes comically ignore Mr. Fuzzypants as he lurks “stealthily” in the background (by lurk, I mean he just walks around and characters are blind to his presence), Spacey unenthusiastically mutters off-screen, and I’m pretty sure there’s a scene where Gardner wants to bone Spacey-cat….
The Nine Lives title doesn’t even come into play during Mr. Fuzzypants’s predicament, as only one life is ever needed. Honestly, having Spacey-cat die eight times might have brought some kind of kindred hope to this abysmal abomination, but apparently only human deaths are enough for this uniMEOWginative** experience. Stumbling hangover kitty and all.
My final verdict: 2 stars for Christopher Walken, -.5 star for no Grumpy Cat cameo. Although, with his asking price these days, the entire movie probably would have been shot on green screens…
*This review was written post-screening, with alcohol in my system. How are there not more typos, right?
**Reminder, I’ve been drinking.
EuropaCorp just wasted eight of its nine lives on this garbage.