The opening shots of Nine Lives are composed of actual cat videos ripped straight from the internet. It’s incredibly fitting, because Nine Lives feels about as funny as a cat video, but runs almost 86 minutes longer than most of those. When a premise is this tired, the final product is only as good as the talent you attach to it, and somehow, Nine Lives not only managed to score two Oscar-winning actors to headline it, but an experienced comedy director as well. Unfortunately, their involvement doesn’t elevate the material very much, and you’re left with a movie that not only feels uninspired, but also very, very cheap.
Kevin Spacey (“Superman Returns”) plays Tom Brand, a rude, spiteful business tycoon who seizes every opportunity to ignore his loving wife (Jennifer Garner, “Dallas Buyers Club”) and shame his assistant, who is also his son (Robbie Amell, “The DUFF”). With his daughter’s birthday approaching, Brand decides to buy her what she’s always wanted and what he’s always hated: A cat. Strangely, this selfless gesture gets his character punished by having a mysterious pet store owner (Christopher Walken, “Jersey Boys”) transfer his spirit into a cat while his human body is left in a coma (don’t even get me started on the ridiculous series of events leading up to that). Now, with time running out, Tom has to win back his family before . . . before, um . . .
Come to think of it, there really isn’t any urgency in Brand’s pursuit to win over his family. His body’s in a coma and they’re nice people, so they’re not planning to abandon his human self anytime soon.
Oh, wait, I forgot! There’s also a subplot about his cartoonishly malevolent corporate associates trying to steal his business, so I guess that’s Brand’s ultimate goal . . . to get back to work. Or something. I’m really unsure how the movie wants me to feel about these characters.
Spacey, fitting nicely into his “dick boss” archetype, is definitely having fun with this
easy paycheck role. Given it’s a children’s movie, he isn’t able to let loose like he does in “Horrible Bosses” or “Swimming with Sharks,” and while he certainly deserves better roles than this, his presence doesn’t hurt it. I can’t say the same for Walken, though. Essentially reprising his eccentric role in “Click,” he — like the rest of the cast — sadly isn’t given much to do besides move the plot forward.
Shockingly, however, Nine Lives narrowly avoids being painful to watch, but that’s only because Spacey has a few amusing moments and one-liners as Mister Fuzzypants the cat. They’re far from hilarious, but watching a cat intentionally bust into a liquor cabinet to get drunk in a kids’ movie was a highlight for me.
The humor stops there, though. There’s a plethora of potty humor and lazy slapstick bogging down the rest of Spacey’s time as a cat, but I can only see very small children enjoying the majority of it. Outside of that, you have moments with the family that should feel touching, but lack any heart whatsoever and ultimately feel like a means to an end. There are also a number of scenes dealing with Brand’s company struggling to build the tallest skyscraper in the country, but that subplot will be too boring for kids and way too inert and simplistic for adults.
Nine Lives isn’t aided by its ABSURD amount of downright terrible visual effects, either. Although Mister Fuzzypants is mostly played by a real cat, the moments he’s CGI look worse than “Garfield” did over a decade ago. Even before Brand becomes Fuzzypants, there are shots of New York that look like they were pulled from a video game. The movie actually opens with Spacey skydiving out of a plane for some reason, and you don’t buy for one second that he was ever in a plane. Having helmed the “Addams Family” and “Men in Black” franchises, I can only assume director Barry Sonnenfeld allocated the money elsewhere (likely inside Spacey and Walken’s bank accounts), because his visual sensibilities are usually above par.
There’s not much else to say about Nine Lives. At its best, it can be compelling in its strangeness, but it isn’t nearly compelling enough to keep your attention for 87 minutes. It’s nothing more than forgettable fodder for your kids, and despite being written by a whopping five writers, it feels like it was conceived in an afternoon. There are plenty of better movies out right now. Hell, there are plenty of better movies about overworked parents becoming pets. It’s a surprisingly popular formula, but it’s only popular because it worked better before.
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