Nine Lives (2016)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cat videos are really, really funny. There is something so pure and delightful about watching a cat—a creature that usually radiates disdain, composure, and hubris—make a total fool of itself by falling off of tables, emitting unearthly noises, and totally flipping out at the sight of a cucumber. As long as cats and humans have coexisted, cat owners have known that felines are bizarre creatures, but the rise of the Internet has allowed us all to capture and share the weird things that our cats do.

Dogs, of course, are inherently social creatures, and there are outdoor, public spaces for dog lovers to congregate (parks, beaches, etc.). Cat lovers didn’t have a public forum until YouTube took off, allowing the world to peek into homes around the globe and collectively laugh at just how weird cats really are. That’s why the most popular cat videos are so successful: They capture cats behaving in a completely natural, unstaged way, and the reason they make us laugh is because we know it’s an actual cat doing these strange, unbelievable things. In short, you cannot fake a good cat video.

But that doesn’t mean Hollywood isn’t going to try.

The latest attempt to cash in on the Internet cat craze comes from director Barry Sonnenfeld (best known as cinematographer for the Coens-turned-director ofThe Addams Family and the Men in Black trilogy). The resulting family comedy, Nine Lives, takes a stale concept (Hey, people really like cat videos!) and marries it with an even more outdated premise (a workaholic dad needs to learn a lesson about the value of family, preferably through magical means). Five different screenwriters are credited to the Nine Lives script, which stars Kevin Spacey as a Trump-like New York businessman named Tom Brand, who’s dedicated his life to his billion-dollar company while neglecting his family. His latest project is to build the tallest tower in the Northern Hemisphere, but there’s another competing tower out in Chicago. He’s so obsessed with this project that he almost entirely neglects his daughter’s birthday, stopping by a creepy, back-alley pet store at the last minute to buy her a cat. (He, of course, hates cats, but his adorable 11-year-old desperately wants one.)

So, he heads to Purrkins Pet Store, owned by one Felix Perkins, a.k.a. Christopher Walken, playing a role almost identical to the one he played 10 years ago in Click. Then, he played a mysterious Bed Bath & Beyond employee who gives Adam Sandler a magical remote to teach him about the value of family. Here, he’s a mysterious pet shop owner who watches as a freak accident leaves Spacey in a coma, with his mind trapped in the body of a cat named Mr. Fuzzypants. He tells Mr. Fuzzypants that if he ever wants to get back to his old life (and stop eating Fancy Feast/pooping in a litter box), he must learn the importance of self-sacrifice and how to be kinder to his wife (Jennifer Garner), adult son (Robbie Amell), and young daughter (Malina Weissman).

Sound familiar? It’s a plot that belongs in a Disney Channel Original Movie circa 1998, and the special effects look like they’re from roughly the same time period. It’s fun to watch cats do stupid things. It’s not fun at all to watch a poorly animated cat try to open a whiskey bottle or struggle to hold a pen, all while Spacey lobs insults at his ex-wife and says things like, “No thanks, I have the rug,” when Garner ushers him toward the litter box. (It’s not clear what Garner’s character actually does. At one point, we see her giving a charity speech, but she spends most of the movie moping around their Upper East Side apartment, complaining to Spacey about how he doesn’t appreciate their family or rolling her eyes at the cat’s antics.)

I went into Nine Lives with a (very small) amount of optimism. Surely, if a movie had this clichéd of a concept in 2016, there had to be something fresh—or at least an element of “so bad it’s good.” Instead, we got a nonsensical plot about corporate double-crossing, treacly messages about the importance of family, and bland performances from Spacey, Garner, and even Walken. It’s Christopher Walken as an eccentric pet store owner! You’re telling me the writers couldn’t think of one crazy, Walkenesque thing for him to do?

To add insult to injury, the film actually opens with a montage of renowned cat videos. (In other scenes, famous Internet cats like Lil Bub, Waffles, and Hamilton actually make cameos, and in an attempt to create the image of multiple cats in one room, the special effects department just copied-and-pasted footage of the same cat.) Watching these videos of actual cats, all of whom have racked up countless views on YouTube, just serves to underscore how unfunny and neutered Nine Lives actually is. D-

Nine Lives (2016)
  • Movie
  • 87 minutes