Most of us love Kevin Spacey. He played a cunning cripple in The Usual Suspects, a passive-aggressive father in American Beauty, a Blackjack expert in 21, and a sadistic boss in Horrible Bosses. Then, at the age of 54, he floored everyone as the spine-chilling Frank Underwood in the TV series House of Cards. He has a good (dark) comic timing, a knack for playing manipulative and sadistic characters and an unmatched charisma as an actor. Directors have squeezed out the best from him, and there isn't a performance of his that we didn't enjoy.
Until we watched him play a cat in the unbearably asinine Nine Lives.
The story of Nine Lives is predictable, with no reasonable explanation for anything. Kevin Spacey plays a billionaire businessman, Tom Brand, who owns the Firebrand corporation. He is married to Lara (Jennifer Garner), and has a daughter, Rebecca (Malina Weissman). His ex-wife (Cheryl Hines) often comes to visit and is 'good friends' with Lara, while her son, David (Robbie Amell), works in Tom's company. Tom has no time for his family, as he chases his dream of building the city's tallest tower, while he also tries to stop the board of trustees from going public with the company. He is vain, selfish, bossy and extravagant. All of this is established in the first 20 minutes of the film.
On Rebecca's eleventh birthday, she asks her father for a pet cat. Tom hates cats, but reluctantly agrees. He visits a pet shop in an ominously deserted corner of the street, owned by Mr Purrkins (Christopher Walken), a cat whisperer and supposedly an all-seeing psychic (that is all we will ever know about him).
In a hastily-sketched turn of events, Tom, clutching on to the cat and its cage, falls from his tall tower. His fall is broken and he ends up inside the building by crashing into a window (you have to see it to believe it).
It is then revealed without explanation that Tom has swapped bodies with the cat, while his human body is in a coma. Mr Purrkins talks sense into Tom the cat, warning him that he has one week to realise what a horrible family man he has been, or risk being a cat forever. He also acts as some sort of guiding light, conveniently showing up whenever Tom is stuck.
To cut the long, tiresome story short: Tom has to convince his family that he is stuck in the cat's body, and also try to save the Firebrand company from being sold by Ian Cox (the villain of the story who watched him fall), and also learn a lesson about the value of family, and also deal with the possibility of being stuck in a cat's body for the rest of his life.
A lot of things are unexplained, and the characters are unconvincing cardboard cut-outs. There is nothing funny, not even the attempts at slapstick cat gimmicks.
If director Barry Sonnenfield was trying to cash in on the Internet phenomenon of cats, it didn't work out too well. This is the same Sonnenfield who gave us the hilarious Men In Black and The Addam's Family series, along with Pushing Daisies and Wild Wild West. And that's the most frustrating part of this film. It has big names—Sonnenfield, Spacey, Garner, Walken—known for their outstanding work and award-wining talent, but there isn't a chance for them to show it off.
The film might appeal to children, simply because of the presence of a cat. If you're a Kevin Spacey fan, go back to Netflix and watch House of Cards this weekend instead. If you're a cat lover, there is no real cat in the film, and the CGI-animated cat is no fun, so skip this one.
Film: Nine Lives
Director: Barry Sonnenfield
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Walken