A workmanlike adaptation of a story that — for good reason — has resisted screen transfer over the last three decades, “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!” reps a competent feature helming debut for star Steve Guttenberg. But credulity-straining core situation of a hetero man trapping a gay thief in his home one long night, with laughter and tears and possible romance resulting, was already contrived enough in James Kirkwood’s original 1972 novel and his ’75 stage version. Lacking the knockout lead perfs or more whimsical tone that might have transcended script’s dubious logic, pic comes off as a so-so theatrical stunt delivered via the wrong medium. Modest production will be much more at home in broadcast slots than theatrical gigs.
Time to cash in on the novel’s name-recognition value expired a couple decades ago; published during Gay Lib’s first-wave heyday, “P.S.” was a pop-lit hit that went through umpteen editions (helped later on by Kirkwood’s further fame as “A Chorus Line’s” book author). The novel’s iffy premise was made palatable by an amusing first-person tone and the then-outre sex appeal of a hitherto straight man’s coming-out under circumstantial pressure. But now the whole plot seems simply gimmicky.
Failed writer-actor Jimmy Zoole (Guttenberg) is already in a serious funk this New Year’s Eve. His apartment has been burgled twice; his most recent stage project went down in flames; his beloved cat is at the vet’s, expiring from a bladder ailment. Worse, fed-up longtime g.f. Kate (Cynthia Watros) has chosen this moment to dump him — via a coldblooded note; only Jimmy’s untimely return home while she’s busy packing her remaining things turns their breakup into an ugly face-to-face incident.
By coincidence, their separate arrivals had trapped handsome young Latino Eddie (Lombardo Boyar) in the apartment as well, first in a closet, then under a bed. He’s broken in through a skylight for yet a third attempted burglary. Snickering unseen as the couple tear into each other one last time, he’s discovered only after Kate leaves. By then, Jimmy’s rage is such that he knocks out the intruder, then ties him face-down on a kitchen counter.
Upon awakening, Eddie provides a convenient pin-cushion for all his captor’s frustrations. Strangely, given his vulnerable position, he continues to goad Jimmy. But they eventually bond, sorta, via mutual confessions of despair and variably mean-spirited/harrowing encounters with unexpected guests Kate (who arrives with her new squeeze) and a kink-oriented casual pal of Jimmy’s, “Crazy” Carmine (A.J. Benza).
Guttenberg (co-penning adaptation of the late Kirkwood’s work with Jeff Korn and Michael Bell) wisely muffles the novel’s improbable close by giving Jimmy and Eddie just a tentative romantic reconciliation at the end. Yet their whole relationship arc remains silly and hard-to-swallow.
Shift from early ’70s Manhattan setting to contempo L.A. would be OK if Jimmy’s character (and Guttenberg’s perf) weren’t so rooted in the neurotic ’60s-’70s NYC stereotype defined by such Neil Simon works as “Prisoner of Second Avenue.” A pleasant light comedian in most of his screen work to date, helmer-star mugs too much early on; turn improves as Jimmy calms down. Little-known Boyar is perfectly adequate, yet lacking the kind of persuasive charm and ingenuity that a John Leguziamo might have lent this largely stock-still role. Support players are shrill or wasted.
Tech and design elements are slick but unremarkable; ditto Dean Grinsfelder’s lite-jazz score.