It’s not quite a catastrophe, but the updated remake of “That Darn cat” is a loud and largely charmless trifle. Very small children may be attracted in sufficient numbers for fair-to-middling opening weekend B.O., but this overbearing comedy isn’t likely to pussyfoot very long in theaters before it high-tails to homevideo.
Much like Disney’s recent, considerably better “Incredible Journey” pics — and, of course, the studio’s high-grossing live-action remake of “101 Dalmatians” — “That Darn Cat” tries to recycle the central gimmick, if not the entire plot, of a Disney hit from yesteryear. In this case, the inspiration is a 1965 comedy that featured Hayley Mills as the young owner of a mischievous cat who leads FBI agent Dean Jones on a merry chase during a kidnapping investigation.
New version stars Christina Ricci as Patti, an acerbic eccentric who lives with her clueless parents in a small town that she considers fatally uncool. As written by S.M. Alexander and L.A. Karaszewski, and sarcastically played by Ricci, the character bears more than a passing resemblance to the spooky little girl played by the actress in two “Addams Family” pics.
Patti’s only friend is D.C., a free-spirited cat who’s fond of latenight rambles through the quiet town. D.C., by the way, is short for Darn Cat, though he is seldom called that.
The revised plot calls for bumbling crooks to accidentally abduct a housemaid instead of their intended target, the vain wife (Dyan Cannon) of a wealthy businessman (Dean Jones, whose appearance in the remake is a rare clever touch). The kidnappers hide out in Patti’s town, and keep Lizzie (Rebecca Koon), the maid, tied up in a warehouse. When D.C. happens by, Lizzie signals for help by placing her wristwatch around the cat’s neck.
Patti makes the connection between the watch and the missing maid, but her parents dismiss her suspicions as the product of an overactive imagination. Undeterred, Patti reports to the FBI headquarters in nearby Boston. An eager novice agent, Zeke Kelso (Doug E. Doug), gets the unenviable assignment of tailing D.C.
Under the frenetic direction of Bob Spiers, a British TV vet whose credits include “Fawlty Towers” and “Absolutely Fabulous,” “That Darn Cat” is noisy and busy without being terribly amusing. Typical of the pic’s overkill is a climax that involves a long, repetitious car chase punctuated with demolished vehicles and flaming explosions. The whole sequence is so desperate, it’s a bit sad.
The writers have tried to keep things zany by introducing several aggressively “colorful” characters — a lovelorn butcher (Megan Cavanagh), rival gas station owners (John Ratzenberger, Mark Christopher Lawrence), a dotty old lady (Estelle Parsons) and a pair of thick-witted security guards (Tom Wilson, Brian Haley). Unfortunately, none of these people have been given anything funny to do. Even more unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from overplaying their roles to the hilt.
“That Darn Cat” resembles nothing so much as a third-rate, over-the-top cable-TV sitcom aimed at undemanding children. Occasionally, a character will pause quietly for no discernible reason, as if waiting for a laugh track to kick in. The silence is deafening.
On the plus side, Doug E. Doug has a few brief moments of inspired lunacy when his FBI agent tries to think — and move — like a cat. And Peter Boyle, cast as the owner of the town’s retro candy shop, develops a weirdly sweet give-and-take with Rebecca Schull, who plays his wife. On the other hand, Elvis, the cat cast as D.C., is conspicuously short on kitty charisma.
“That Darn Cat” is supposed to take place within 50 miles or so of Boston. Pic actually was filmed in Edgefield, S.C., a place with suitably attractive small-town ambiance. In a couple of shots, the boom mike is intrusively visible. Otherwise, tech values are unremarkable.