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Nine Lives


CAT GOT HIS TONGUE Mister Fuzzypants confiscates Garner’s car keys in a scene from this comedy with scarcely a whisker of fun.
  • CAT GOT HIS TONGUE Mister Fuzzypants confiscates Garner’s car keys in a scene from this comedy with scarcely a whisker of fun.

What do you say about a film starring Kevin Spacey as a talking cat? Frankly, the best qualities of this family comedy from director Barry Sonnenfeld (the Men in Black series) are that it doesn't exceed 90 minutes and gives Christopher Walken a chance to say the words "poopy box."

Say them he does, with much aplomb, playing Felix Perkins, a magical pet-shop owner who enjoys using his furry friends to teach nasty people lessons. At such moments of outright absurdity, Nine Lives becomes so awful it's almost awesome.

In this case, the guy being schooled is corporate tycoon Tom Brand (Spacey), whose sins include Trumpian arrogance, gross neglect of his wife (Jennifer Garner) and daughter (Malina Weissman), and relentless mocking of his grown son from a first marriage (Robbie Amell), who doesn't meet his dad's standards of manliness.

Guilt-tripped into buying his daughter the one birthday gift she craves — a kitty-cat — Brand stumbles into Perkins' pet shop and comes out with a blue-eyed, bad-tempered Siberian named Mr. Fuzzypants. The CEO's mood fails to improve when a freak accident somehow lands his consciousness inside the cat's furry form, while his own body languishes in a coma.

At this point, Spacey switches to voice acting, the cat becomes the star, and predictable shenanigans ensue. Since no one can hear Mister Fuzzypants' acerbic human voice except Walken's character, the man-cat is reduced to guzzling whiskey for courage, seeking attention by crapping outside the litterbox, and generally giving his family hell. Since he remains the same jerk he always was, our sympathy for his plight quickly flatlines.

Nine Lives opens with a montage of cat videos and features cameos from YouTube stars such as Lil BUB, making an obvious bid to capitalize on the popularity of online felines. Yet no one involved seems to have realized that what people like about cat videos is, well, cats. Real ones, in all their grace and dignity and comic obsessiveness with shiny objects, not digitally generated cats performing antics that cats can't do.

The film does get laughs from the sheer weirdness of part-CG Mr. Fuzzypants, who comes across as half cat and half supernatural abomination, with a wonderful vocabulary of earsplitting yowls. But once he's learned to use the "poopy box" properly, Brand is pretty much done with the whole acclimating-to-being-a-cat thing, and it's time for a misbegotten corporate intrigue plot to limp to its end.

Because Brand's wife, son and daughter have been written as sickly sweet stereotypes, it's difficult to care whether he learns to appreciate their company. The film's five writers appear to have given up on the whole "lessons learned" thing, too. By the end, we're asked to root for Brand against a renegade employee who uses his boss' absence as an opportunity to launch an IPO. Never mind that our hero's business ambition seems mainly to consist of a narcissistic obsession with building the northern hemisphere's tallest, most phallic building.

This is a Scrooge story that suggests Scrooge's greed is just fine, as long as he remembers to hug his daughter after work — in other words, perhaps, a too-apt Scrooge story for our time. While Fuzzypants' whirling-dervish act may amuse cat-loving kids, the film doesn't have much to offer anyone else. A career low for Spacey, it's likely to be remembered best for the brief scenes with Walken, who somehow manages to preserve his spacy hauteur even in scenes where he's lecturing a sardonic feline. The film may be about as smart as a hairball, but he's the cat's meow.