This is one of those exceptional films where I really hope its maker loses sleep knowing what he has created. It’s as if Barry Sonnenfeld and the inexcusably large writing staff got piss-drunk one night, pitched an idea for a film where Kevin Spacey turns into a tawdry CGI cat that monologues in English, and then accidentally sent a screenplay to EuropaCorp.
As you might have inferred, no major Hollywood studio distributed this film. Nine Lives is, technically, a French film, which in itself solidifies that not all French movies are Oscar-bait dramas or absurdist arthouse comedies á la Delicatessen and La cité des enfants perdus.
In Nine Lives, Spacey plays a powerful tycoon and neglectful family man named Tom, who intends to buy a pet cat as a last-minute birthday gift for his daughter (Malina Weissman). The store he settles for is run by Felix (Christopher Walken) and the kitty Tom is offered is something quite out of the ordinary. All of a sudden, Tom finds himself trapped within its body, and Felix explains that this is his punishment for distancing himself from his loved ones. If he doesn’t make up for it all within the week, he will remain a cat for the rest of his life. This would be the second time Christopher Walken stars in a comedy where he makes the family guy protagonist atone for his wrongdoings by subjecting him to supernatural hijinks. Alas, this film is far worse than Click and not even someone as impossible to dislike as Walken could save Nine Lives.
Long story short: we get to see a mostly CG’d cat that sounds like Kevin Spacey, or at least thinks in his voice Garfield-style, engage in all sorts of hilarious never-before-seen gags. Like jumping into a wall, becoming flat as a pancake and sliding down slowly for comedic effect. Or making snide remarks in response to the cutesy clothing he’s forced to wear. Or urinating. Should I at least be thankful that it’s not Eric Roberts?
Reviewing this film feels somewhat obsolete since it appears nobody actually saw it. Had I released my review earlier, there would be no-one to warn, and as I’m releasing it now, there is no-one to discuss its inordinate stupidity with. I can’t even think of that many apologists of any film starring adowable animals that gave this movie a chance. I suppose they can find enough equally entertaining clips of real cats doing similar things online these days, making me wonder why this film was even made in this day and age. If you’re gonna make a comedy where Kevin Spacey plays a slightly less despicable Trump analogy, isn’t that enough without the “cat video” element?
Maybe kids will enjoy it, then? I’m sure they are as fond of jokes about poopy coming out the butt as they are with gags that involve cats becoming inebriated after taking a sip of old alcohol. As for us Christopher Walken fans, we will always have superior options, so that leaves us with a possible target audience that consists exclusively of old ladies who know a great deal more about cats than they know about filmmaking. I’ve been told that they’re the only ones who went to see this movie in theaters and I am not doubting it.
Some parts of Nine Lives are even horrific, and yes, I’m referring to elements other than the animation of the starring cat. As Tom’s mind occupies the cat’s body, his own human shell is taken to the hospital, and the doctors consider euthanizing him at one point. His wife played by Jennifer Garner considers divorcing him and some of the things that happen to his cat-self are purely cruel. It is one of the most unfunny, free-of-laughs comedies I have watched in the recent decade, and yet I’m not entirely sure whether it is more merciful than Norm of the North.
I abandon you now as I give Nine Lives a paws-down, a total score of 0.5 out of 5 pieces of cat nip, and whatever other puns you critic types like to make based on the subject matter of the film you’re analysing. I can’t take this phrase back once I publish this review but I really expected better from the director of Wild, Wild West.