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Kevin Spacey discovers his feline side

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But body-swap movie Nine Lives is not the cat’s whiskers. Review by Kim Taylor-Foster

Nine Lives (PG)
Running time 1hr 27 min
Rating **

BODY-swap comedies ruled in the 80s, and then again in the noughties. History is dotted with examples of the peppy
sub-genre, but it was really Freaky Friday, in which Jodie Foster’s rebellious teen switched places with her fraught mother, that set the ball rolling in the second half of the 1970s.This was followed by Warren Beatty vehicle Heaven Can Wait in 1978 before the floodgates opened in the decade to follow with Big, in which a frustrated youth is transplanted into the body of his Tom Hanks-shaped older self; Vice Versa, featuring Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold as a body-swapping father and son; and Jennifer Garner hit, 13 Going on 30.

There are numerous other examples of films in which humans change places with other humans, but it’s
fair to say that the switch from human form to animal has been less frequently depicted. Enter Nine Lives. Cashing in on the craze for cats on the internet, 90s throwback Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West) takes the helm in this comedy, which sees Kevin Spacey’s workaholic businessman transported into the body of a feline. When his young daughter requests a cat for her birthday, the regularly absent father is reluctant. He hates cats, so why would he want one around?

But when his wife (Jennifer Garner) urges him to start paying more attention to his little girl, starting with buying her a gift she’ll love, he caves in. Events conspire to take him to a peculiar little backstreet petshop owned by eccentric cat lover Christopher Walken. Picking up a cute kitty, he stops off at his new office building on the way home after receiving a call from a member of his team. A terrible accident occurs leaving his body in a coma – and his mind in the cat’s body. Walken’s ‘cat whisperer’ on hand to share solid words of wisdom, coupled with his experiences as the family cat, Spacey’s neglectful dad character just might learn a thing or two about fatherhood – and uncover a hornet’s nest of treachery at work in the process.

With so many celebrated examples of the body-swap genre, there’s plenty of evidence that this kind of camp,
irreverent, throwaway storyline can be done well. And while Nine Lives isn’t a total failure, it’s got less going for it than it has against it. Its biggest recommendation is Christopher Walken, a man who turns everything he touches to gold. Though his reach doesn’t quite extend to the film as a whole, his performance is priceless. You can’t put a value on Walken’s diamond delivery and edgy demeanour. By contrast, Spacey is dull as ditchwater in this boring, old-hat role. And the cat? Where it should be cute, its constant mewling is grating. Garner is the film’s heart and brings life to her undercooked role, but not even the addition of Cheryl Hines to the cast can save a film dogged by an unpolished script and serious lack of laughs. The cat’s whiskers it is not.

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