Nine Lives is a mixed-up masculinity tale that’s bad enough to be funny, almost.
“A stuffy businessman finds himself trapped inside the body of his family’s cat.”
It’s the kind of synopsis that can turn blind excitement into utter dread, and even worse, that signals a film aiming for unbearable mediocrity over actual value. Happily for viewers – if not for the filmmakers – Nine Lives is so bad that it ends up being somewhat entertaining.
The movie presents the story of Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) and his son, David (Robbie Amell), as a parable of modern-day masculinity. Instead, it ends up lampooning the struggle it attempts to dramatize. After a brief montage of cat videos, we open on the Brands in a helicopter against the backdrop of a poorly rendered CG sky. Brand Sr. skydives onto the roof of FireBrand Tower, his company’s new skyscraper, after dodging a call from his wife (Jennifer Garner) and heckling his son for refusing to join him. Later, David finds a parachute in his meager office with a note from his father saying simply, “For when you‘re MAN enough.”
As if the symbolism wasn’t overt enough, the movie’s corporate conflict centers on a metaphorical dick-measuring contest. When a competitor jeopardizes FireBrand Tower’s status as the tallest building in the Northern Hemisphere, Brand demands immediate action, regardless of the economic consequences. In seeming acknowledgment of the plot’s phallic subtext, Brand jokingly suggests they change their motto to “ours is bigger than yours.” His obsession with things being bigger, taller, and higher puts him at odds with his second-in-command, Ian Cox (Mark Consuelos), who steps in as the villain when Brand falls both literally and metaphorically into a coma.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Where does the cat-tastrophe come into play? In the midst of company turmoil, a pre-coma Brand decides to fulfill his daughter Rebecca’s birthday wish and heads to Purrkin’s Pet Shop to buy her a cat. Christopher Walken is perfection as the store owner, Felix (yet another cat reference) Perkins. You’re out of luck if you’re looking for realism here, but his caricature of a quirky, pseudo-magical shop-keep is terrible in a captivating way. I could describe the store’s look, but I’d much rather send you to the 3D model on the film’s official website. Its schlocky design is fitting, as the film itself shows the shop lined with CG cats.
While Brand’s body lays prone in a coma, his consciousness awakens in the body of his daughter’s new cat, Mr. Fuzzypants. Stuck as a feline, he attempts to communicate with his family and obstruct Ian’s attempts to steal his company. Hijinks ensue.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) has an eye for gravity-defying physical comedy, yet these stunts only add to the absurdity of a nonsensical and unfunny script. As Fuzzypants, Brand tries to write a message to his family, but his lack of thumbs leads to trouble involving spilled ink, broken glass, and kitty intoxication – perfect family film fodder! – but it’s worth it to hear him say “Ironically, I could really use a mouse right now.” (It is not worth it to hear him say this.) Similarly ridiculous moments occur throughout, but like most of the film’s comedic efforts the best these scenes can achieve is laughter aimed at them instead of with them. We’re laughing at their inept execution rather than in response to a smart, humorous construction.
The rest of the so-bad-it’s-good touches are small and often hilarious. Product placement is rampant, ranging from a faux-WIRED magazine cover to more Apple products than I could count. Every one of Rebecca’s outfits has cats on it – at one point she literally wears the cat’s pajamas. And last but not least, Sonnenfeld himself is credited as contributing to the film’s cat sounds. (I’d say he shouldn’t quit his day job as a director, but…)
As you’d expect from a movie of this kind, the story wraps up with a neat bow, but it muddles its messages. In stark contrast to stereotypical notions of manhood, Tom finds peace by supporting his family emotionally, yet David still has to BASE jump to save his family’s company. Instead of having to choose between his family and his tallest tower, Tom gets both. One could argue that Tom developed some, but his declaration that his son “is finally a man now” makes me doubt that he’s learned anything nuanced about the meaning of manhood.
Nine Lives is far from a good movie, but the end product delivers more joy than most could have anticipated.