In Nine Lives, selfish New York billionaire Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) has a problem. Before he can christen the tallest skyscraper in America with his name right there on the top, his soul is shoved into a cat until he learns feline traits like, er, compassion. “A cat doesn’t care if you live or die,” Tom insists. Painfully true — just ask coroners who’ve recovered cat ladies — plus they shed and puke. And once Tom’s steering one, a clumsy fluffball, things only get worse. Posing as Mr. Fuzzypants, his 11-year-old daughter’s (Malina Weissman) birthday present, Tom pees in his ex’s purse (Cheryl Hines) and stalks his current wife (Jennifer Garner), whom he discovers is debating divorce. You could guess Garner would be in this litter box — she’s Hollywood’s go-to suffering wife. And the magical cat whisperer who threatens to neuter Tom for misbehavior could only be Christopher Walken or his cheaper knock-off, Crispin Glover. (Director Barry Sonnenfeld ponied up for Best in Show Walken.)
The true casting surprise is two-time Oscar winner Spacey. “Seriously?” Spacey groans, contemplating his paws. Seriously. Yet the cat — or really, five stunt cats — is pretty terrific. Fuzzypants registers displeasure with expressive blue eyes and a tail that tracks his mood like a seismograph. CG cats suffer the pratfalls, like a gag where Tom gets so drunk on scotch he can’t stand up on four legs. But the real creatures are so impressive that the credits list the cat trainers first.
Yes, Nine Lives is dumb. Yes, it’s for very young kids. Yes, Lil Bub has a cameo. And yes, I giggled anyway, as did the strange man next to me who’d smuggled in his own fish-scented snack. Yet, alas, I don’t think Tom’s life-changing body-swap can rescue us from that other egotistical Manhattan real estate mogul. There’s more than one way to skin a cat — and Donald Trump’s decided to wear his on his head.