Simon Barrett‘s screenwriting and producing credits include The Guest, You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die, Dead Birds and portions of the anthology films V/H/S, V/H/S/2 and The ABCs of Death. His next film, Blair Witch, opens in theaters on September 16. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
Nine Lives is the most important movie opening on this or any other weekend. It is about a man who has a simple dream, one that most people share: he wants to build the tallest skyscraper in America and put his name on it in large letters. His name is Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey), so the building will say “BRAND” on it. Because Tom has recently discovered that there is a building in Chicago that will be one story taller than his building, he spends no time at home and all of his time screaming at his employees, one of whom, Ian Cox (Mark Consuelos) dares to suggest that the company should focus its efforts on things like offering goods and services and not so much on a building’s height. This is our film’s villain. Fortunately, Tom controls 51 percent of his company, so no one can tell him what to do, even if his ideas are bad and wasteful and weirdly symbolic.
Needless to say, Tom’s beautiful family loves him, especially his youngest daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman), whose other defining characteristic is that she wants a cat. Tom grudgingly goes to a magical Christopher Walken (Christopher Walken) to buy a cat, then he becomes the cat because he didn’t spend enough time with his family. Meanwhile, the real Tom is in a coma in the hospital, dying.
The movie has a ticking clock to its plot, in that Tom the cat has to learn about the importance of family before his human body dies. There are more complicated elements to this, but I don’t want to spoil them because everyone reading this should see this film at least once, and anyway that’s the gist of its premise.
The first night in his cat body, Tom initially attempts to communicate, but instead repeatedly befouls an image of George W. Bush. After this devastating failure, he is desperate to be drunk. After breaking into his liquor cabinet, though, he is unable to open his decanter of 50-year-old Macallan with his useless appendages. Eventually, he ends up drinking the spilled scotch from a bowl on the floor. Will kids be able to relate to this scene? I don’t care, because it isn’t for them. It’s for me. And boy, could I relate, except for the part where the scotch was expensive.
Eventually, Tom gets more used to being a cat, because Christopher Walken and Tom’s human wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) both repeatedly threaten to castrate him if he doesn’t stop peeing everywhere. Lara spends all day hanging out with Tom’s ex-wife Madison (a stellar Cheryl Hines), who she hates, but they have to spend time together because of a legal settlement of some kind. I wasn’t clear on this detail. Eventually Tom’s son figures out how to make the building taller, causing Tom to love his family again. But is it too late?!
I really, really liked this movie. I know it sounds like I’m poking fun at it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not, because Nine Lives is absolutely in on the joke. It knows that all of these talking animal movies, many of which I have seen, are completely insane, and leans into the insanity. The writers clearly took the film’s ridiculous premise and ran with it in various wonderfully clever directions. It’s relentlessly paced, thoroughly entertaining and actually very funny.
Nine Lives is also packed with random political symbolism that I can’t entirely parse. Tom Brand is an obvious Donald Trump analog, with references to a failed airline and so on, which is even stranger because he’s our hero. I am fairly certain that the makers of this movie are not Trump supporters, so if anything this film provides a sanguine view of a more innocent Trump, whose politics might be improved were he to slip into a coma and spend a week or so as a cat.
An interesting element of most talking-animal kids movies is that the human characters in them are almost always wealthy. The most common reality of a parent who doesn’t spend enough time with their kids is probably a single parent working two or more jobs, but we rarely see such scenarios depicted on film, because people mostly go to talking-animal movies to avoid thinking about the prevalence and ramifications of crushing poverty. Nine Lives, by having its characters be kind of literally the wealthiest people possible, and having the movie’s plot be in part about the potential transfer of that wealth (Tom at one point gives his son and corporate inheritor an actual parachute, which pays off awesomely), seems to call attention to the subliminal insidiousness of the surreal lifestyle fantasies so often depicted in children’s entertainment.
Nine Lives is a good time at the movies. If I had children, I would take them to see it, and they would respect and admire me for having done so. Also the film features a cameo by Lil Bub.
19 out of 23 stars.