One can only hope it was a lost bet that explains Kevin Spacey’s presence in Barry Sonnenfeld’s hairball of a family film, in which he plays a guy who’s turned into a cat. The credits tell us that it took five screenwriters to pen the script, which means that they outnumber the laughs it generates. The title might be “Nine Lives,” but it arrives DOA.
Spacey plays a Donald Trump-style New York billionaire named Tom Brand, a hard-driving, brusque guy so intent on ensuring that the Manhattan tower he’s building will be the nation’s tallest that he’s neglecting his wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) and eleven-year-old daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman). He’s also resisting the efforts of his slimy assistant Ian (Mark Consuelos) to take the family-owned business public, though the board is salivating over the profits an IPO might bring. His sole support seems to come from David (Robbie Amell), his son by his former marriage, who has a job at the firm but whom he treats with typical disdain.
When Brand’s daughter tells him that what she wants for her birthday is a cat, he tries to put her off, but eventually relents, winding up at a magical pet store—you know, the sort that once trafficked in gremlins—run by an oddball named Perkins (Christopher Walken). He purchases a cat, along with a feeding dish identifying the animal as Mr. Fuzzyypants, but before taking it home goes to the top of his tower to confront the back-stabbing Ian. The magical intervention of a lightning bolt sends him and the cat tumbling to the street; he’s trundled off to the hospital in a coma, but his consciousness has been transposed into the cat.
The rest of the film is primarily devoted to cat slapstick, a combination of real footage and obvious CGI work in which Fuzzypants/Brand must try to acclimate to life as a feline and learn to make sacrifices for his family—something Perkins tells him he must do if he’s even to return to his human body. But he must also attempt to foil the plot to sell his company while he’s out of commission. The result is a series of alternately raucous and sappy episodes which come across as an endlessly tedious parade of cute kitty YouTube videos (some of which actually appear in the opening credits). In a weirdly inappropriate finale to a kids’ movie, Lara contemplates pulling the plug on her comatose husband while, at the dedication of Brand Tower, he proves his redemption by risking all his feline lives to save his son, who he believes intends to commit suicide in protest of the board’s decision in favor of the IPO. By then, of course, he’s bonded with all his family.
Perhaps one shouldn’t be too hard on “Nine Lives.” It’s about on the level of a telefilm made for one of the cable outlets that cater to kids—one such recent effort was about a boy who was turned into a dog. But in this case people are being asked to shell out cash for tickets for themselves and their children, and bear the cost of concession-stand “treats” for everyone to boot. For that kind of investment you have a right to expect something better than Nickelodeon or Disney Channel fare.
You also have a right to expect more of people like Spacey, Garner and Walken. All seem to be phoning things in: Spacey does his usual “Swimming With Sharks” and “Horrible Bosses” shtick for awhile before lapsing into snarky voiceover mode as Fuzzypants takes over, while Garner is nondescript and Walken coasts along on his air of amiable goofiness. One feel a bit sorry for Amell, playing an earnest doormat, and for Cheryl Hines as Brand’s ex-wife Madision, stuck as she is reciting barbs that are meant to be stinging but are uniformly toothless. No kindness should be extended, however, to Consuelos, who chews the scenery mercilessly.
The quality of the acting, of course, must also be blamed on Sonnenfeld, who never seems to have recovered from the curse of his “Wild Wild West” debacle and directs with a degree of flatness and lethargy that suggests he simply decided to defer to the effects team, whose work is unfortunately of mediocre quality. The same can be said of the technical production across the board.
Still, one might be inclined to forgive Spacey for getting lured into this hopeless endeavor. To paraphrase a line he himself intones as Brand early on in “Nine Lives,” let’s just pretend that it never happened and go binge out on “House of Cards” instead.