Review: Nine Lives
PLOT: A busy tycoon (Kevin Spacey) is taught a lesson in family love when an eccentric pet shop owner (Christopher Walken) transforms him into a cat. His only hope is to mend fences with his estranged wife (Jennifer Garner) and young daughter (Malina Weissman). If he fails, he’ll have to stay a cat forever!
REVIEW: Oh boy, here we go. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to me when Barry Sonnenfeld’s NINE LIVES aka “the movie where Christopher Walken turns Kevin Spacey into a cat” didn’t screen for critics. Still, being a critic who prides himself on giving most mainstream movie releases a chance, I bought a ticket for NINE LIVES, hoping against hope that the trailers were hiding a deceptively clever family comedy. After all, Sonnenfeld made THE ADDAMS FAMILY movies, how bad could this be?
Pretty damn bad, I’m sorry to say. Right from the get-go, when a meowing cat replaces the EuropaCorp lady, it was clear that Sonnenfeld was making a cut-rate family comedy that’s only half a step up from BABY GENIUSES. This paycheck gig is one he’ll have a hard time living down, and it seems that the tent-pole days of the MEN IN BLACK franchise are now behind him, with this not even being technically proficient. It’s inexcusable that a mainstream movie features green screen as poor as what’s on display in the opening scene, where Spacey sky-dives onto the top of a building. One wonders if Spacey only filmed for a day or so, as so many of his scenes are haphazardly put together. Even the journalists at his impromptu press conference seem digitally added, with Spacey unable to make eye contact with any of them, as I’m pretty sure they didn’t exist as he was filming this. Even weirder is a scene later on, with Jennifer Garner, where they give speeches at a charity luncheon. It’s so obviously filmed on a green screen that nobody cast shadows. I honestly haven’t seen VFX work this bad since FATEFUL FINDINGS.
Of course, these early scenes are only supposed to set up what everyone (meaning very young children) are there to see – a talking cat. The joke is having Spacey, famous for playing intimidating types, voice this frisky feline, named Mr. Fuzzypants. No one can hear Spacey’s dialogue, so while we hear his vaudevillian one-liners (“no thanks, I have the rug” when Garner offers him a litter box), everyone else hears frantic meowing, which may or may not also be voiced by Spacey.
One can’t fault them for taking paychecks, but boy, oh boy, do Spacey and Garner look foolish here. By contrast, Charles Grodin in the early nineties BEETHOVEN movies seems like the model of sophistication. This is such a poor vehicle for Spacey that I imagine even Adam Sandler would have taken one look at the script for this and said “pass!” I felt especially bad for Garner, who’s reduced to taking pratfalls while chasing after a CGI cat. The former star of ‘Alias’ deserves much better – is this the best Hollywood can do for her? Christopher Walken somehow manages, in the way only he can, to somehow come out looking alright as the goofy pet shop owner. Still, in a fifty-year career filled with a few pretty awful movies, this is arguably the worst thing he’s ever been in – even worse than 1992’s MCBAIN (the source of many Walken YouTube parodies).
Some of you may think I’m being unduly harsh on a kids movie, but make no mistake – this is Hollywood filmmaking at its most dire. One of the first offerings from Luc Besson’s full-studio version of EuropaCorp, this sets a bad precedent. One wonders if he actually has a handle on the type of mainstream fare North American audiences actually want to see. Throughout, I was reminded of a line in the Cannon Films doc ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, where one former employee said the studio would have been better served by a chimpanzee randomly selecting scripts than company head Menahem Golan. NINE LIVES is so bad that, yes, it seems the only way it could have gotten made is if it was randomly selected from a pile of unproduced scripts by a chimpanzee.