With more confusion than fanfare, “Nine Lives,” the Kevin Spacey-starring talking-cat movie has yowled its way into theaters this weekend. But is it a movie? Or is it an hour and 27 minutes shaped like a movie that’s actually a foreign box-office sales presentation? Stars + talking animals = ticket sales, or so they say.
This cinematic equivalent of diet ice cream (nutritionally and flavor deficient, totally not worth it) is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and was written by a committee of five writers. It seems like it must have been a sweet deal for Spacey, who gets top billing for a week or so of work — a few days on set and in the recording studio. He plays wealthy New York business mogul and developer Tom Brand, obsessed with building the tallest skyscraper in the world, to the detriment of his family life and relationship with his daughter, Rebecca (Malina Weissman).
Feline hijinks ensue as Mr. Fuzzypants attempts to convince his wife (Jennifer Garner, send us some kind of signal if you need help) and daughter that he’s actually Tom and tries to stop Ian from selling his company (even though it clearly makes more financial sense to go public and stop the skyscraper nonsense). Stuck at home, Tom learns the value of family and the struggles they’ve gone through once he’s finally around.
In fairness, there are two bright spots: Cheryl Hines, who plays Tom’s ex-wife, Madison, and Christopher Walken, who is the magical pet shop owner and cat whisperer Purrkins. The cats who play Mr. Fuzzypants give great feline performances too. With “Keanu,” 2016 seems to the year of the cat actor.
The cinematography is a green screen nightmare, and the climax takes a shockingly dark turn before its market-tested happy ending. The most disappointing thing is that “Nine Lives” doesn’t even dare to be an audacious mess. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of Hollywood’s worst instincts, a movie made with a math formula where its vision should have been. The fact of the matter is that you’re going to need nine wines to endure “Nine Lives.”
MPAA rating: PG, for thematic elements, language and some rude humor.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: In general release