The American Dream is a powerful drug. One moment, you can be on the verge of owning the tallest tower in the Northern Hemisphere; the next, your consciousness has been placed in the body of a homeless cat. More aptly: one moment, you’re at an all-time career high; the next, you’re in a movie about a tycoon who becomes a cat. There isn’t any one person in particular I’m directing these examples toward, because Nine Lives features a mind-blowing number of talented craftspeople who somehow, through either coercion or threat, were placed in this movie together. It’s kind of like Suicide Squad! Except it’s way better than Suicide Squad.
The movie opens with viral videos of cats as our protagonist, Tom Brand, explains to the audience via voiceover that cats aren’t people. That’s the opening. Boom! Page one is done, baby! Now that the confusion of whether cats may or may not be people is over, we can get this train moving. We’re introduced to Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey), a wealthy Donald Trump simulacrum who is in the final stages of opening his company’s magnum opus: FireBrand Tower, the Tokyo Skytree of NYC. Tom’s company, FireBrand (the purpose of which is never explained – maybe meta, probably just lazy writing), is nervous that another tower being constructed in Chicago is going to be 60 feet taller. The assistant who watches his every move is cleverly revealed to be his son, but that cleverness dissipates when you think about how much of a lil’ puss his son is. He’s nervous to jump out a plane, and his dad gifts him a parachute with a note basically calling him a coward. His own dad doesn’t remember his age! God forbid, though, his monument to phallocentrism be undermined by a slightly wider, uncircumcised tower.
So since this is a movie about a selfish businessman, it’s required by movie law that he has a wife and child(ren) who miss him and wish he was around more. We’re introduced to his wife (Jennifer Garner) walking in on their daughter watching him give a press conference on TV. When she realizes, horrified, that the girl has watched the video 83 times (and has literally memorized his speech’s intonations and pauses) she puts her foot down and decides he needs to step up. Now, if the fact that he doesn’t know his own son’s age wasn’t bad enough, and the fact that his daughter misses him so much that she’s turning into his own personal Mark David Chapman wasn’t even worse, it’s revealed that he’s forgotten his daughter’s birthday. What a piece of work this guy is!
So to make it up to her daughter so she won’t stab him in his sleep, he agrees to buy her a cat. However, some work problems get in the way (he finds out about that 60 feet), and he finds himself running late – speeding through the streets of Manhattan in a Ferrari like he’s fuckin’ Vin Diesel. I’m talking drifting corners, zero shoulder checks, high-octane speeding. Along the way, his phone drops in his car; this causes the GPS app to fuck up so badly that it sends him to a different pet shop. Is this possible? In Nine Lives it is, buster! The pet shop he’s sent to is owned by an eccentric old man who looks and talks exactly like Christopher Walken.
Tom buys the first cat he sees, Mister Fuzzypants, and is warned by Christopher Walken not to be any later than he is already. Tom, being a normal human, more or less tells him to mind his fucking business, and leaves. Obviously, Tom has to go to the tower to talk to one of his executives about this goddamn tower height crisis, and meets the man on top of the tower in the middle of a lightning storm. That’s the kind of smart thinking that got Tom to the top! Unfortunately, it also sends him to the bottom. See, right after Tom tells the exec he’s firing him, Tom is more or less knocked over the edge of his own tower along with the cat – yes, he brought the cat with him – and the exec refuses to save him because of that whole firing business. Seems a little cartoonish, but whatever. When Tom drops several stories, he wakes up in a coma in the body of the cat. Turns out, Tom has only a few days left to get back into his comatose body, and the only way to do that is to learn to be a better father to his family. While being a cat.
Nine Lives is either the most criminal movie of this year or the most pleasantly innocent. I honestly cannot tell what the intentions were behind this movie. Is it a tax scheme? Going beyond tax avoidance, it’s no secret that wealthy investors have thrown their weight behind movies as a means of what basically amounts to money laundering. With few ways to prevent this from happening, moviegoers find offerings occasionally that make zero sense. That being said, I’m not really sure that’s what’s going on here. It’s released by EuropaCorp, a French company; Wikipedia even calls it an “English-language French comedy film,” which is about as apt a description as it gets for this movie. Nine Lives is all over the place!
Take, for example, Tom himself – a very confusing character. He’s shown as a generally heartless miser, but he displays some traits of likability: he takes the cat to the top of the tower in the first place because the cat looked sad when he was leaving it in the car. What a softie! The plot in general has a lot of confusing elements, too: the villainous (and, curiously, slightly ethnic) business partner who refused to save Tom spends most of the movie hovering over his body, asking nurses when they can take him off of life support. Tom’s ex-wife hangs out at Tom’s house frequently, bringing two small dogs and her daughter with her, but she and Tom supposedly can’t stand each other? Also, her daughter gives Tom’s daughter shit constantly: there’s a scene where Tom’s daughter is crying, and the other girl takes her picture and Snapchats it, calling her a “loser.” What a little bitch!
There’s also an entire plot involving Tom (as a cat) following his wife as she’s meeting a secret man he heard about, which turned out to be her realtor. Her realtor? His hunch came from hearing his ex-wife tell her, “If Tom dies, you always have Josh.” Why would she say that about anyone but a secret lover? The resolution is even more confusing: she wasn’t cheating at all, she was just planning on leaving Tom! Uh, okay? Is that not still really bad? “The only reason I changed my mind was this damn coma!” If that seriousness makes the affair too dour for you, don’t worry: there’s a 2-minute scene where Tom is literally running along the walls of the house as his wife and ex-wife chase him, and a separate scene where he steals his wife’s keys, and she chases him. It’s so oddly slapstick & out of place in a movie like this. It legitimately makes it feel like a ’90s movie like Jingle All the Way, with which this movie shares a lot of the same plot points & themes. The weird obsession with cats, like opening the movie to a montage of cat videos, makes me wonder if this movie wasn’t in development in 2009. It all feels very dated.
Speaking of “dated,” there’s no better word I can think of to describe the visual effects of this movie. The CGI looks like shit. Absolute, unfiltered doody. Shots where CGI isn’t even needed, like a shot of a cat running down a hallway, are used frequently – combine that with how noticeably bad it is, and it makes for a movie that visually doesn’t hold up today, let alone 5 years from now. There’s a weird slapstick scene when Tom is getting used to his cat body where he tries to break into the liquor cabinet in his study. Scenes like this are so cartoonish that it becomes a continuity issue within the movie that’s just one part of a generally poor script: if Tom can sometimes become a Looney Toons character, why not have those attributes at all times? Why is he still occasionally limited by being a normal cat? Why is he able to get drunk and not suffer the effects that alcohol would have on a cat (death)? Is the cat’s consciousness in Tom’s comatose body, or was the cat just a personality husk before Tom was put in it? Why doesn’t the movie actually work with this, making a fun joke about how some cats are so impersonal because they haven’t had the brain of a 1 percenter put in them yet? Why, if he’s rearranged the fridge magnets to say “I’m Tom,” does no one in the house notice? Why does it take until the end of the second act for his daughter to realize it’s him? And why is the reason she found out because he does a dance they used to do a lot, in cat form? Who is this movie for?
The movie has a completely nuts ending. I mean nuts. First off, it’s revealed that the reason Tom called his company “FireBrand” is because his daughter drew a picture of him on fire when she was little. What the fuck? That isn’t something to be proud of! Anyway, Tom’s comatose body is about to die and his son discovers that the evil business partner has brokered a deal to go public, letting his dad’s company die. What’s the best way for a young man to handle that? Jump to his death from the tower, duh! Tom realizes this and decides to stop him instead of getting back in his body, essentially sacrificing himself. When he dives off the building with a rope to save him, he realizes his son is wearing the parachute he bought him. Boom! The plan makes so much more sense now! He’s…base jumping off the building…to prove…a point? I guess? The point is, he doesn’t save the cat, so it hits the ground and Kevin Spacey wakes back up in his body. People were there! News teams saw and filmed a cat committing suicide as a man base jumped on top of another man! It’s insane. The villain gets his comeuppance by being put into the body of another cat, and Kevin Spacey and his daughter are given the original Mister Fuzzypants. Uh, what? What? The same Mister Fuzzypants that was pancaked onto cement?
I didn’t hate Nine Lives. I laughed at some parts, and the movie is overall a very upbeat, fun movie that no one will remember in a few years. In a way, it reminds me of Larry Crowne: it’s hard to dislike something that really wants to entertain you – it feels very genuine. But this is also a movie that, in its quest to be entertaining, ultimately trips over itself: it doesn’t follow its own logic; the stakes are ultimately very low; it tries to be sappy at the wrong times, which creates a tonal inconsistency. We’re shown at the end of the movie that Tom’s son figured out how to beat the other tower, letting Tom get what he always wanted. Speculate how you want about the reasons behind this odd movie’s existence, but one thing seems clear: all of the people involved are big fans of money.