I walked into the screening of Nine Lives with the grim determination of a front line infantryman walking into certain death against a superior fighting force. The prospect of Kevin Spacey partaking in some schmaltzy, quickly produced made-for-TV style family flick drivel as a designer feline was a depressing one. So I settled in with some pretentiously healthy and silent snacks to get me through the next hour and a half.
To my shock and mild horror, for a while Nine Lives passed the time fairly well. Kevin Spacey played a deplorable and powerful bastard, so we were in safe, familiar territory. Christopher Walken played a local, mysterious pet shop owner and everyone’s favourite weirdo and finally we had some slapstick comedy involving a cat, actually drawing a few laughs from the audience. Even me. Yes me! A notoriously miserable, sarcastic bastard laughed, more than once and I was sober. The kids certainly enjoyed it and I, for sure, enjoyed the back and forth exchanges between Spacey and Walken. Even in something as run-of-the-mill as this, those two together provide us with something interesting.
Unfortunately about 45 minutes in, while the film was by no means a masterpiece but chugging along perfectly acceptable, the film grinds to a shuddering halt. The two selling points of the film are Kevin Spacey being an entertaining dick and a prolonged YouTube comedy cat clip. To advance the film, both have a limited shelf life and once that runs out there are no more ideas.
In fact the introduction to Nine Lives is videophone clips of cats doing silly things with narration over the top telling us that “cats are not people.” If they were of course, they would have recommended some better support casting. For while Kevin Spacey is entertaining in human form and briefly in cat form once the other “actors” start getting involved the whole thing plays like a rejected script for a Nickelodeon show.
When Spacey’s very Trump-like billionaire egomaniac, Jon Brand, ends up in a coma his family don’t exactly seem upset. Especially his wife Jennifer Garner who looks flustered as somebody would if they spilt red wine on the new carpet, while his son, played by Robbie Amell seems more concerned with the accounts. Mind you, I wouldn’t be that upset about a neglectful, egomaniacal, old white billionaire ending up in a coma either.
Gone is the pleasant homage to Freaky Friday and instead we get “Look Whose Talkin 2016”. Nine Lives descends into a soppy, simpering load of cack. It’s not much of stretch to compare it to a football match where you team plays a steady first half and keeps things tight at 0-0 before conceding 8 soft goals in the second half and receiving 3 red cards.
The root of the problem is a horribly misjudged second act story involving second degree murder, attempts to make a very obvious fictional version of Donald Trump seem sympathetic and culminating in a suicide. It’s all the more disappointing when you consider this film was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. A man with a long, storied and noteworthy back catalogue, as a cinematographer for The Coens then as director for superbly strange family comedies, The Addams Family and Men in Black.
Here, Sonnenfeld, even at this film’s best, offers us crushing, commercialised conformity. I can practically see him on the wrap up day of the shoot sitting in his director’s chair sporting a t-shirt saying “Where’s the cheque?” The acting from the majority of the support cast, bar Walken, is more wooden than a self-assembly wardrobe and the writing becomes lazy, the screenplay seemingly put together by a team of marketing executives.
This film is not a total CAT-astrophe (booo) by any means. I’ve seen many reviews of this film that are staggeringly scathing, including one which recommends you instead watch a GIF of a cat with its face stuck in a loaf of bread. The film isn’t THAT bad but it isn’t that good either. Its forgettable and for the careers of Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken, that’s probably not a bad thing. Still, it isn’t Mother’s Day and for that we can be thankful.