Skip to main content

Calm down, Mr Brand. You’re a cat. It’s not the end of the world.

Nine Lives
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Something of a departure for Kevin Spacey, who after all, isn’t known for prowling the streets at night, on the lookout for frisky business. Nine Lives was roundly ripped to shreds by critics and viewers alike, which rather ignores its star’s Oscar-worthy performance. Spacey, rightly envious of Bill Murray’s astonishing achievement with two Garfield movies, decided he wanted some of that. It probably doesn’t need stressing that Nine Lives is not a good movie, but it isn’t quite the horrendous one it’s been made out as either; it’s simply lazy, which pretty much sums up Barry Sonnenfeld’s directorial career.


I wonder if Baz ever wishes he’d stuck to cinematography. He was, after all, pretty good at it (his Coen Brothers collaborations from Blood Simple to Miller’s Crossing being particularly emblematic). Since casting his net wider, however, he has evidenced zero appreciation for quality or consistency, from producing Space Chimps to directing the likes of Wild Wild West. There have been upticks; Get Shorty, the Men in Blacks showing a flair for the cartoonish that ought to have translated to this, his most recent movie, and dabbling in TV that sometimes pays dividends (Pushing Daisies, and the good notices for A Series of Unfortunate Events). But why would he want to immerse himself in waters that last elicited a trio of less-than-adored Look Who’s Talking movies?


In fairness, I don’t think there’s anything much wrong with this concept, and on paper, Spacey playing a dyspeptic cat sounds decent enough in terms of laughs potential (which is why I put it on my list of 20 to see last year, inadvisably, maybe even inexcusably, I know). But Sonnenfeld’s take appears to have been inspired by YouTube cat videos (as per the opening sequence) rather than MGM or Warner Bros cartoons, with a budget to match. He has an actual, ostensibly live-action cat made to perform, by the less-than-magic of CGI, various feats an actual, live-action cat couldn’t, but seems to be making a feature of the terrible effects from the first scene onwards, almost as if he’s proud of them (in said first scene, Spacey’s corporate titan Tom Brand dives out of a plane for kicks; it looks really bad, not funny bad). Brand’s a good-guy capitalist, a bit of a grouch whose only real failing is that he doesn’t spend enough time with his family, a mogul who’s opposed to privatising his firm. So basically, this guy doesn’t exist in reality.


Five credited writers have come up with nary a gag to rub between them, but the tried-and-tested plot outline, in which Mark Consuelos’ oozing villain attempts to wrest the company from Tom while he’s in a coma (and in a cat) is inoffensive and at least isn’t dull (for contrast on the latter, see The BFG). Jennifer Garner as the long-suffering wife only gets to be grateful she’s not her real hubby in terms of starring roles you really regret, but Cheryl Hines scores as the brittle ex, while the child actors (Malina Weissman and Talitha Bateman) provide decent showings.


This isn’t Christopher Walken’s finest hour, though. He usually brings something to any role, no matter how nondescript the surrounding movie, but his cat whisperer really is nondescript (and as has been pointed out, is pretty much the part he played in Click, to similarly forgettable results).


Spacey does acerbic with aplomb, even when he’s just picking up a cheque, so there are occasionally lines here that work (“Looks like a cat already ate this” he observes of his food), and I’ll admit to raising a smile as the feline dives off the office roof after his son during the climax (“Mr Fuzzypants?” asks the bewildered Robbie Amell). The problem is, no one seems to be enthused by what they’re doing. Even the cat sound effects are half-hearted (seemingly exactly the same sound dubbed onto any given comic moment). As The Secret Life of Pets and Cats and Dogs (or Barnaby and Me, or The Shaggy D.A.) have shown, this kind of thing has a ready audience if done well. Sonnenfeld just doesn’t seem to care. He even kills the cat. 


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas