×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Nine Lives’

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

With:
Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Robbie Ameill, Cheryl Hines, Mark Consuelos, Malina Weissman, Christopher Walken.
Release Date:
Aug 5, 2016

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4383594/

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.

More Film

  • The Good Girls

    Shanghai Film Review: 'The Good Girls'

    The economy’s a mess but Sofía’s hair is perfect in Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls,” a film that is all surface in a way that is not, for once, a negative. The primped, powdered and shoulder-padded story of the fall from grace of a 1980s Mexican socialite is all about buffed and lustrous surfaces [...]

  • ‘Midsommar’ Traumatizes Early Audiences (Who Totally

    ‘Midsommar’ Traumatizes Early Audiences (But in a Good Way)

    Ari Aster can likely cross off “sophomore slump” from his list of many nightmares. Distributor A24 let loose the follow-up to the director’s widely praised, commercial hit debut “Hereditary” with two buzz screenings, which ran simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Response was almost unanimously positive, if not significantly rattled. “Holy [...]

  • Toy Story 4 Forky

    ‘Toy Story 4’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Disney Pixar claims the top spot in spending with “Toy Story 4.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.53 million through Sunday for 1,073 national ad airings on 38 networks. [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Film News Roundup: Nicolas Cage's 'Jiu Jitsu' Obtains Cyprus Support

    In today’s film news roundup, Cyprus is backing Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu”; “The Nanny” and “Amityville 1974” are moving forward; “Milk” is returning to theaters; and Garrett Hedlund’s “Burden” is getting distribution. CYPRUS REBATE Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu” has become the first international film to use Cyprus’ new tax credit-rebate program by filming entirely in [...]

  • Zhao Tao

    Zhao Tao Gets Candid in Kering's Shanghai Women in Motion Showcase Interview

    Zhao Tao is one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese art cinema thanks to her longtime collaboration with director Jia Zhangke, whom she married in 2012. From 2000’s “Platform” to last year’s “Ash is Purest White,” her work has plumbed the moral depths of modern China and brought stories of the country’s drastic change [...]

  • Skyline on the Huangpu River with

    Chinese-American Film Festival Seeks Particular Dialog

    With U.S.-China ties at an ever-sinking low, the Chinese-American Film and TV Festival on Tuesday pledged to improve communications between the two countries —  at a Chinese language-only press conference Tuesday that had few foreigners present. Most attendees who took to the stage to give congratulatory speeches that seemed more intent on heaping praise upon [...]

  • Murder Mystery

    Netflix Reveals Record-Breaking Stats for Sandler-Aniston 'Murder Mystery' Flick

    “Murder Mystery,” the latest Adam Sandler film to debut on Netflix, broke viewing records on the streaming service, the company revealed Tuesday. The film, which is co-headlined by Jennifer Aniston, was seen by close to 30.9 million households in its first 3 days, according to a tweet sent out Tuesday afternoon. 🚨ADAM SANDLER AND JENNIFER [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content