Cast: Kevin Spacey, Christopher Walken, Jennifer Garner, Robbie Amell, Mark Consuelos
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
His soul enclosed within the body of a cat, multibillionaire, multisector mogul Tom Brand finally comes around to a few essential realisations about life (by allowing him to possess the cat’s body, the film constructs for him an out-of-body perspective that belongs to, say, A Christmas Carol or Scandinavian dramas from the silent-era): he has, in is single-minded pursuit of the construction of the tallest building in the Northern Hemisphere, ignored his family. To compensate now, as a cat, he improvises with his daughter a sport: players nudge a ball in each other’s direction, the objective being to prevent it from falling. This results in the rather peculiar muddle of a film that surrounds it, a sequence of genuine pathos: a leading man — devolved into a cat — who renders his apology not through words, but through the enthusiasm with which he participates in this most arbitrary game.
It is a fact that Nine Lives aims to operate like gentle comedies about affluent White Americans and their misadventures with those lesser privileged than them — the sort that were prolific in the early ’90s (think Richie Rich, or Home Alone, or Baby’s Day Out, even.) It is an assortment of similar elements: a billionaire, his neglected family, the impending threat to his empire from an unscrupulous manager/neighbourhood thug and through various machinations, the restoration of all order: filial, financial and more significantly, financial. Here, Brand has wagered all he has in his real-estate ambitions when suddenly, on a dark, magical evening besieged by thunderstorms, a freak accident results in the transfer of his consciousness to a cat.
This could have been an excellent coda — an accomplishment in absurdity — if only it weren’t so immediately established as the means to a larger end: the inducement in Brand of a contemplation of his follies. He begins living in the family mansion as the family pet, which allows him access to every member’s personal quarters, their grievances and their desires. Meanwhile, an ambitious, resentful manager in his company schemes a covert takeover — with Brand’s body in coma, his mind inside a cat, Brand’s estranged son must step up to protect his inheritance and indeed, accumulate vulgar wealth which will benefit his own family and no one else.
A crisis of tone permeates much of Nine Lives: it recognises itself as a children’s film and yet, most of it is immensely morose. Even in sequences conventionally designed to evoke optimism, it seems difficult for the film to abandon its general atmosphere of mourning: which is to say, it seems to believe that there is no real, actual hope for the family at the centre of it all. It does simulate the notion — as all family dramas must — that all of its elements of despair: a dying father, his broken marriage, the affair of his wife, their lonely child, the vengeful ex-wife, her neglected son and the dissolution of their collective fortune — will ultimately be resolved, but also lays thick a disclaimer: even if they do, there really is no point.
This lament exists, as if, after the fact of the film’s spiritual predecessors from 20 years ago, which recognised the family as the site of all happiness, but which in Nine Lives, will still not be adequate to yield genuine redemption. This darkness is interesting — a result perhaps of the cat-human itself (it is, after all, the main protagonist) which is written as a cynical, selfish and uncaring character who will manipulate everyone to attain his freedom. It is therefore not tragic to see Brand trapped in another creature’s body: his torment manifests not as a dire anatomical crisis (one imagines the inhabitation of the body of a new species will present distinct challenges — also, fodder for comedy), but as a series of dry, acerbic, smart-ass one-liners that one wishes fewer films employed as an easy substitute for good writing.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society...