On the same day many are rushing to confirm how terrible Suicide Squad is with their own eyes, a far more questionable movie hits theaters: Nine Lives. Starring Kevin Spacey. As a cat. And Jennifer Garner. As his wife.
Of all the mystifying films that get greenlighted in Hollywood, surely this will go down in history as one of the biggest head-scratchers. Take a minute to let the moment sink in—Kevin Spacey plays the lead in one of Netflix’s most popular series, a gritty political saga known as House of Cards. You might be familiar with it. In Nine Lives, he plays a cat. His character is a workaholic egotistical CEO named Tom Brand who’s also a bad dad and whose soul inhabits the body of a cat he recently bought his daughter. “Wait a minute, I’m a cat!” is one of the lines Spacey is forced to deliver.
The existence of Nine Lives—produced for $29 million and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (the man behind both Men in Black and, well, Wild, Wild West)—is beyond fathomable. Why is Kevin Spacey playing a cat?????????????
When the trailer for Nine Lives was widely released in April, film sites wondered the same thing. AV Club wrote: “We could spend all day debating why, exactly, Kevin Spacey agreed to star in a movie where he plays a powerful business mogul magically transformed into a talking cat. We could discuss the easy paychecks available for voice work, or a desire to take a break from all those ribs he’s constantly downing on the set of House Of Cards.”
From the movie-goer’s perspective, even sight-unseen, there was never any doubt Nine Lines would be something only watchable on TV in the gloomiest hours of the night by people at a dark place in their lives.
At a premiere in L.A. this week, Variety spoke to Garner and other supporting characters, but it doesn’t appear that Spacey attended. Perhaps going off an “I’m not mentioning this shit” clause in his contract, he’s done no major promotion. There’s a reason this movie wasn’t screened for critics before its release. As Screen Rants notes, the film’s marketing team even used fake cutesy critic quotes in its materials:
The Catfington Post (“Totally Paw-Some”). Vanity Fur (“Purr-fection”). Meowsweek (“Hiss-Sterical”). Yes, the film’s marketing department has inserted fake critical praise in which both the quotes themselves and the names of the publications are not only fictitious, but they’re all painful cat puns. It could have worse, the ads could have given fake cat names to actual critics, like Me.Ow. Scott of the New York Times or Ty Purr of the Boston Globe.
Now that Nine Lives is somehow in physical theaters—where real people can buy real tickets—reviewers have been subjected to watching the film, and the resulting criticism has been expectedly unfavorable.
The Wrap’s Dave White points out the “listless direction from Sonnenfeld, and an overall feeling of cheapness and carelessness.” And IndieWire’s David Ehrlich describes it as a “derivative story” that’s “too fluffy and frivolous to be the worst movie of the summer, but it might just be the laziest.” Ehrlich goes on to offer up a possible explanation for how this got made:
No, this hairball of hot garbage comes from the braintrust at Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, the French production company responsible for the lunatic likes of “Taken,” “The Transporter,” “Taken 2,” “Lucy,” and “Taken 3.” EuropaCorp’s mission statement has seemingly always been to make movies that feel like they were dropped on their heads as children, and “Nine Lives” is no exception. Young kids may not notice the difference, but you certainly will.
According to The Wrap, Nine Lines happens to be “one of EuropaCorp’s first releases through Red, the distribution pipeline it shares with Relativity.” And Relativity is a company going through a mess of bankruptcy proceedings. Unclear how much that explains the making of this film. What’s clear is that too many people entrusted Sonnenfeld to make a decent silly comedy.
In its review, The Hollywood Reporter says Nine Lives “gives viewers plenty of out-of-place ex-wife-hating barbs; groan-worthy feline puns; an apparent suicide attempt; some acting that an experienced director should never have allowed onto the screen; and an unusually gruesome color palette.” Likewise, Owen Gleiberman appears rightfully incredulous in his Variety review, writing:
The thing that’s so excruciating about films like “Garfield: The Movie,” “Cats & Dogs,” “Beverly Hills Chiuahua,” or the new “Nine Lives” — starring Kevin Spacey as the voice of a disgruntled kitty cat named Mister Fuzzypants; are you tumbling out of your chair with laughter yet? — is not that they’re comedies about talking animals. (Many fantastic animated movies are comedies about talking animals.) It’s that they’re made by people laboring under the delusion that an animal who talks is in itself funny. News flash: It is not.
A glimmer of light in the fog: A Forbes reviewer at least enjoyed Nine Lives more than Suicide Squad, but also thinks “Spacey’s voiceover performance is pretty terrible.”
So what’s the explanation for why Kevin Spacey decided to appear in a cat movie as a cat? The obvious answer would be money. Spacey has starred in classics like The Usual Suspects, but he’s also done Fred Clause because it’s inevitable that actors will encounter a dud or few in their lifetime. The Wrap reported the Nine Lives Spacey casting news in January 2015 and noted that Spacey was starring in another mind-boggling movie, Elvis & Nixon, as Richard Nixon, as well as Horrible Bosses 2, a very bad sequel.
It’s not just money. I believe something more innocent lurks beneath Spacey’s decision. While promoting Nine Lives, Mark Consuelos (who plays Spacey’s friend) told In Style in an interview, “The movie has a lot of great messages, and it’s a positive piece that you can enjoy with your family.” Which is a load of malarky. For answers, look no further than this interview with Robbie Amell, who plays Spacey’s son in the movie, and reveals that Spacey spent the first three weeks on set while they were filming in Montreal. Nothing much from than that, right?
Amell says he learned a lot in the process. But then, he mentions how much Spacey enjoys ping pong, an obsession that’s been noted (Spacey once described himself as a “ping pong nut.” “He loves ping pong. He has a ping pong table wherever he goes,” says Amell. “And we would just play five to ten ping pong games per day and I would just listen... Some dinners and a lot of ping pong games.”
Five to ten ping pong games per day.
Five to ten ping pong games per day.
Kevin Spacey made this movie because he needed time to relax. Guy just wants to pong and not think about acting. There’s further proof from Garner and Amell, who told ET Canada on the premiere carpet that Spacey was always “entertaining” the cast with impressions of Johnny Carson and the film’s other co-star Christopher Walken. The theory fits.
Looking even deeper into the psychological reasons for this movie’s existence, Slate suggests there’s a link between dad transformation movies and the idea of work-life balance, in that “the real reason that this genre is so consistently plumbed in the American cinema of the ’90s and ’00s is that it so perfectly addresses our anxieties.” Further:
The real magic is that these transformations allow the dad to spend scads of uninterrupted time with his child. And then, via a series of tasks that are usually accomplishable quests, involving physicality, and not, say, talk therapy, rapprochement can be achieved.
Sure, though I doubt Sonnenfeld and the filmmakers deeply considered that woke thought, otherwise the audience would feel the nuance. People who make movies simply figured Kevin Spacey as a cat would be funny, and Kevin Spacey figured he could have fun playing ping pong. The end.
I can’t explain Jennifer Garner’s role, except that in an interview about the film she said, “It’s gonna be incredibly watchable and funny and warm,” which can only mean that insect-sized bots have taken over her body, which would also explain Miracles from Heaven. If anything, there is one person who’s determined to see this cat movie.