Film Review: ‘Nine Lives’

'Nine Lives' Review: Kevin Spacey in
Courtesy of EuropaCorp

Is the wacky talking-pet comedy the lamest genre now going? Kevin Spacey, as a dyspeptic kitty cat, does nothing to redeem it.

At this point, the prospect of another chapter in the “Saw” series might conceivably be worse — or, perhaps, one of those movies in which the French director Bruno Dumont tries to pass off his ponderous metaphysical misanthropy as “light and funny.” Really, though, one would be hard-pressed to think of a contemporary movie form more torturous to sit through than the cutesy-wacky anthropomorphic celebrity-voiced pet comedy.

The thing that’s so excruciating about films like “Garfield: The Movie,” “Cats & Dogs,” “Beverly Hills Chiuahua,” or the new “Nine Lives” — starring Kevin Spacey as the voice of a disgruntled kitty cat named Mister Fuzzypants; are you tumbling out of your chair with laughter yet? — is not that they’re comedies about talking animals. (Many fantastic animated movies are comedies about talking animals.) It’s that they’re made by people laboring under the delusion that an animal who talks is in itself funny. News flash: It is not. It’s funny only if you believe that the zaniest special-effects comedy of 1964 starring the voice of Shecky Green is funny.

Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of “Nine Lives,” is that kind of a filmmaker: a glorified rib-nudger, an FX-meets-vaudeville throwback. In “Nine Lives,” it’s supposed to be a major hoot that Spacey’s Tom Brand, a vaguely Trumpian New York entrepreneur obsessed with building the tallest, longest skyscraper in America, gets into a freak accident that transfers his personality into the body of a cat. (Meanwhile, the body of Brand himself lies in a coma. No, it doesn’t really make sense.) None of the members of his family can hear the cat talking, and neither can his back-stabbing business associates. That privilege is reserved for those of us in the audience. We’re the ones who are supposed to be cracking up whenever Mister Fuzzypants says something like “Oh, look, Satan’s over!” (as his lush of an ex-wife wanders into the room) or “No, thank you! I have the rug!” after his owner (Jennifer Garner), who is actually his current wife, directs him toward the litter box.

You can imagine this movie being one infinitesimal notch funnier — which is to say, a small notch above zero — if Rodney Dangerfield had been speaking the lines. The actual fluffy feline who appears in the role of Mister Fuzzypants wears an expression of vaguely depressive boredom that, in theory, is supposed to mirror the Spacey dyspepsia. But Spacey, who is known in showbiz circles for his wicked improvisations, could probably have made up wittier dialogue in his sleep. He’s hamstrung by this glum paycheck dud, and so is everyone else. “Nine Lives” is a lot like a cat: It occasionally bestirs itself, and it would like to be stroked with love, but mostly it just sits there. It’s a pet farce so flat it makes you long for the Lubitsch touch of the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” comedies.

The film opens with a montage of cat videos, and one reason the script is so lame is that the whole reductive reasoning behind this French-Chinese co-production may have come down to: “Cat videos are hot! Huge demo! Let’s make a movie full of that stuff!” In other words, let’s lay on the cat slapstick — and Sonnenfeld does. See Mister Fuzzypants try to hold a pen and scrawl a note! See Mister Fuzzypants try to pour out a decanter of 50-year-old Scotch! See him leap onto counters and up walls, inch along the ledges of a Fifth Avenue high-rise, and fall flat on his feline back! In the movie, some of these routines actually do get turned into amateur cat videos, and it’s a little mystifying why, since they pale next to the real thing.

The big yawn of a plot is about how Brand’s associates attempt to sell off his company while he’s in a coma. Can Fuzzypants foil their plan? It should be noted that Christopher Walken is on hand, as a kind of eccentric “Gremlins”-shop-owner-meets-cat-fancier. The fur on Walken’s head stands up nearly as tall as one of Brand’s buildings, and the character is supposed to be a “cat whisperer,” which means that he, along with the audience, is lucky enough to hear all those hi-larious lines that issue from the inner voice of Mister Fuzzypants. There’s probably a funny mainstream comedy to be made (even for kids) that centers on a rascal of a talking animal. But that won’t happen until the people who make it figure out that it isn’t enough to hear an animal talk. He (or she) has got to say really funny things.

Film Review: 'Nine Lives'

Reviewed at AMC Village 7, New York, August 4. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production

(France-China) A EuropaCorp release of a EuropaCorp production, in association with Fundamental Films. Producer: Lisa Ellzey. Executive producers: Mark Gao, Claude Léger, Gregory Ouanhon, Jonathan Vanger.

Crew

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Writers: Gwyn Lurie, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Daniel Antoniazzi, Ben Shiffrin. Camera (color): Karl Walter Lindenlaub. Editors: Don Zimmerman, David Zimmerman.

With

Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Robbie Ameill, Cheryl Hines, Mark Consuelos, Malina Weissman, Christopher Walken.

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  1. Milla Pitner says:

    I loved this movie! I saw it at the plane and it was great to kill some
    Plane time…

  2. Gandi says:

    i love Mr. Fuzzypants and Rebecca Brand..LoL

  3. 8675309 says:

    My kids loved it. I got to watch Walken and Spacey in lighthearted roles and got to see that delicious slice Amell. I still love Jenifer Garner, so, win.

  4. Audrey says:

    As a children’s film expert (i.e. mother) this one was bad, all the kids at the cinema started talking and getting fidgety after 30 mins. Unoriginal and lazy I thought.

  5. Jesse Hopkins says:

    I just saw this today, and it WAS a hoot, and DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF RODNEY DANGERFIELD.

  6. millerfilm says:

    Review Title: Me-OW! ;-)

  7. Bill B. says:

    Kinda surprised that you would even review something as lame and minor as this.

    • cadavra says:

      As an industry paper, it’s Variety’s job to review virtually everything, no matter how poor it may be. Their reviews, going back to the very beginning of the industry, are invaluable research tools for historians.

  8. EricJ says:

    Any comedy where the cat is named Mister (….)pants is one you’ve already seen.

    And if it wasn’t for Spacey and Sonnenfeld, I’d be looking at the poster/concept thinking, “Shouldn’t this be in the DVD section of a Wal-mart somewhere?”

  9. gloria says:

    Just saw this movie and I LOVED it.

  10. Ken says:

    Heyyyy! “Cats And Dogs” was freakin’ hilarious!

  11. Matt says:

    A pretentious, humorless movie reviewer, that’s different. Rex Reed did it best.

    • Bill B. says:

      Rex Reed, who I didn’t know graced our presence any longer (must be writing for something obscure), is not only a terribly negative and bitchy queen of a reviewer with rotten taste, he is also not a very nice person. I’ve met him and he is just as obnoxious in person as he is on a screen.

      • Ken says:

        Many contemporary reviewers aspire to Mr. Reed’s acerbic style…few are hardly as pithy. He has been at this game for decades; he’s seen it all. But when he sees something he likes, he can be most effusive, too. He is never uninteresting.

    • Dennis Brian says:

      I like Reed. He is Updike compared to Owen.

  12. Steve says:

    “It’s a pet farce so flat it actually makes you long for the Lubitsch touch of the “Alvin” comedies.”

    Best review line of the day. Really funny and incredibly pretentious at the same time. One has to be impressed. :)

  13. stevenkovacs says:

    Till seeing it! ❤️🐱

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