In 1978, the late James Kirkwood successfully adapted his 1972 novel "P.S. Your Cat Is Dead" for the stage, and Steve Guttenberg has brought it to the screen as star, director and co-writer. Guttenberg, whose own career has not exactly been in high gear of late, has written that he was attracted to the material because as a writer, Kirkwood was always able to discover a ray of hope at the lowest point of despair.
As a film, however, "P.S. Your Cat Is Dead" is more deeply felt than fully realized. Despite strong portrayals by Guttenberg and his co-star, Lombardo Boyar, and sequences that attempt to open the play up, it remains too much a filmed play, and worse, one that has not been effectively paced. As a result, it doesn't come alive until it's drawing to a close that's unexpectedly touching, if more than a little sentimental, but too late to redeem the preceding tedium.
Guttenberg's Jimmy Zoole is a dreary schlemiel who has spent 20 years deluding himself about his acting and writing abilities. Unfortunately for him, he has an arrogant, possessive, rich aunt (Shirley Knight) who has subsidized his dilettantism but exacted his self-respect in return. One New Year's Eve, Jimmy's all-too-justifiable sense of failure comes crashing down on him. His fed-up live-in girlfriend (Cynthia Watros) has left him a "Dear John" letter, then scribbled a note about a phone message from the vet saying that his ailing, beloved cat has died.
No wonder Jimmy is overcome with feelings of revenge when under his bed in his loft apartment, apparently another subsidy from his aunt, he discovers and overpowers a burglar (Boyar) who has robbed him twice before not only of computers and TVs but also of a small lockbox that contained the only copy of a manuscript of a novel he has been writing in longhand -- and which had been swiftly disposed of by Boyar's disdainful Eddie.
Obviously, Jimmy should call the cops straightaway, but having tied Eddie down on a table, this most impotent of men is overtaken by his sense of power over another person. In short, what we have here is a situation that seems at once pathetic and, as it becomes protracted, not just a little sick. A sometime male hustler and party stripper as well as a burglar, street-savvy Eddie starts questioning his captor's heterosexuality. At this point, tension and curiosity as to whether he's guessed correctly should start building, but Guttenberg's slack pacing and the plot's various implausible interruptions turn the film into a singularly unappetizing spectacle. Guttenberg clearly took on too much in directing as well as acting, for if "P.S. Your Cat Is Dead" were to have had a prayer of working as a movie, it would have to have been relentlessly taut, brisk and edgy.
'P.S. Your Cat Is Dead'
MPAA rating: PG, for language, crude humor, sensuality and violence.
Times guidelines: Blunt language, adult themes, some violence.
Steve Guttenberg...Jimmy Zoole
Lombardo Boyar...Eddie Tesoro
Shirley Knight...Aunt Claire
A TLA Releasing presentation. Director Steve Guttenberg. Producers Kyle A. Clark, Christopher Vogler, Guttenberg. Screenplay by Jeff Korn and Guttenberg, from an adaptation of the James Kirkwood novel by Korn, Michael Bell and Guttenberg. Cinematographer David Armstrong. Co-producer/editor Derek Vaughan. Music Dean Grinsfelder. Production designer Mark Harper. Costume designer Carlie Tracey. Running time: One hour, 32 minutes. Exclusively at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the Edwards University 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8811.