Crappy Kid Movie Alert! Beware of "A Talking Cat!?!"
"A Talking Cat!?" (2013) Directed by "Mary Crawford"
Those of you who regularly follow my movie Hubs know by now that I have a weakness for bad movies. Never mind those highbrow flicks that rack up all those Oscar nominations; give me a forgotten '80s slasher flick with a no-name cast or a SyFy Channel creature feature with a steroid mutant shark in it and I'm a happy camper. That's entertainment, baby!
However, my fandom for cinematic badness generally doesn't extend towards bad movies for kids. An exception is the 1964 classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which has become a holiday perennial 'round my house. Even when I was a kid, I thought that most "kids' movies" sucked, and now that I have two sons (age 6 and 11), I've become even more aware of the astounding amount of absolutely TERRIBLE movies being aimed at our children -particularly in what I refer to as the talking animal genre. On any given month, Redbox and Netflix are both fairly overflowing with hordes of low-budget talking animal comedies, likely inspired by the success of Disney's talking-golden retrievers Buddies series. Though of course the "art form" goes all the way back to TV's Mr. Ed. In talking animal movies, ordinary household pets have the ability to carry on running conversations (sometimes only amongst themselves, so that only we the viewers can hear them) and hilarity presumably is supposed to ensue.
We'd recently suffered through a particularly odious entry in this genre called Step Dogs, in which two wisecracking pooches (a redneck Shepherd mix mutt and a spoiled princess Pomeranian) had to learn to live together as part of a "blended family" when their masters got married, and then teamed up to defend their snowy mountain cabin against a pair of bumbling "Home Alone" style burglars. My kids seemed to get a kick out of it, but for dear old Bad Movie Lovin' Dad it was the cinematic equivalent of a root canal. I thought kid movies couldn't possibly get much worse than that, till this past weekend when it was the kids' turn to pick a movie again and Netflix (based on our Step Dogs pick) recommended something called "A Talking Cat!?" Our family had a pet cat till recently - sadly, our dear Kitteh went to the Big Litter Box in the Sky late last year - so naturally my boys asked, "Awwww, look, a cat movie! Can we watch it? Please please pleeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaase?" how could I possibly refuse their request? I pressed play...
...and 85 minutes later I was shaking an angry fist at the sky and bellowing "Curse you, Netfliiiiiiix!" It's only mid February as I write this and already A Talking Cat!?! has a lock on my award for Worst Movie I've Seen This Year. Step Dogs, you are hereby forgiven.
When it comes to direct to video movies, there's low budget, and then there's NO budget. Guess where A Talking Cat!?! lands on that scale? This movie looks like it was shot in one weekend on home video equipment, like one of those soft porn flicks you see late at night on Cinemax. (as it turns out, that assessment is not far off...but I'll get to that later.) There are a grand total of two sets in this movie - the homes of each group of characters. Scene changes are marked with endless shots of waterfalls, forests, roads, beaches and fountains (which also help to pad out the running time to feature length). The cast is a mix of young unknowns (who will likely remain young and unknown), a couple of former child actors from days gone by who were obviously in desperate need of a mortgage payment... plus one ne'er do-well sibling of an Academy Award winner!
Our story (such as it is) revolves around two troubled families. Recent retiree and single Dad "Phil" (Johnny Whitaker, former kid star best known for TV's "Family Affair" in the 60s and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" in the 70s) has just sold his share of the computer company he founded and is now trying to use this newly acquired free time to bond with his estranged, nerdy teenage son "Chris" (Justin Cone). Chris, however, is too busy crushing on "Frannie," the cute gal he's tutoring in English (Alison Sieke). Frannie obviously feels the same way about Chris, but he mysteriously brushes off her constant requests for them to take a swim together in Phil's palatial mansion pool after their tutoring sessions.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the woods, single mom "Susan" (Kristine DeBell, who some may remember from TV's "Eight Is Enough" or "Meatballs") runs a struggling catering business out of her home kitchen that is best known for her Cheese Puffs, which are supposedly awesomeness defined. Susan has two bickering teenage children, "Tina" (Janis Peebles), a budding Internet entrepreneur and "Trent" (Daniel Dannas), a muscular slacker who is looking for direction in his life. Obviously the lives of these two families will intersect in a magical way (cue the "Brady Bunch" theme song) before the film is over, but how will it happen? With the help of ... (dun-da-dun... ) DUFFY, THE TALKING CAT... who is voiced by Eric (brother of Julia) Roberts, of all creatures!!
Duffy's inner monologue that opens the movie informs us that he's sort of a feline Yoda, wandering the byways and going wherever he's "needed." He describes himself as "a human whisperer." After dropping in on both families, Duffy decides that Susan needs Phil, Phil needs Susan, Chris needs to grow a sack and hook up with Frannie, and Tina's budding internet savvy could blossom into something huge under Phil's sage guidance. Oh, and Trent needs to stop being such a dick to his sister... or something. Thus, they're all candidates for his special brand of feline "help."
I should mention that Eric Roberts' voice work as "Duffy" is the pinnacle of unintentional hilarity. He sounds bored (or hung over) throughout the film, and all of the cat's voice-overs have an annoying echo to them, as if Roberts recorded the dialogue over the phone, or while standing in a tile-walled bathroom. The effect is even funnier when viewed in tandem with the piss-poor CGI "animation" used on the cat's mouth to move Duffy's lips when he speaks.
Anywhoo...Duffy gently nudges all of the major characters together and eventually "speaks" to each of them one on one. He doesn't really say MUCH, honestly, but somehow his deep, catlike wisdom helps Phil strike up a friendship with Susan. Tina then realizes that Phil's computer wizardry can help her take her fashion-website idea to the next level. Duffy also gets Trent and Chris together in a skin crawlingly awkward scene set around the swimming pool. As it turns out, Chris won't swim with Frannie because he doesn't know HOW to swim, and he's been too afraid to tell her. Luckily, it just so happens that Trent is a licensed swim instructor (what are the odds?) and he's more than happy to strip down to his shorts and teach Chris (who he just met 30 seconds before) how to swim. In fact, he seems a little TOO eager, if you know what I'm sayin'. I'm serious, I was waiting for some funky "Bomp-chicka-bow-wowwwww" music to start up on the soundtrack for a minute there.
...and it just goes ON like this for an absolutely tortuous 85 minutes that feels like at least twice that. There's some late inning attempts at dramatic tension as a bad batch of cheese puffs threatens to derail Susan's meeting with a big client, and then Duffy gets hit by a speeding car, which sends the characters off into the woods to find his mystic cat collar that can save his life, and...oh good Lord, why am I even bothering to detail the rest of this nonsensical plot? If you make it this far into the movie you will be lucky if you haven't suffered permanent damage. The amazing thing is, as bad as this movie was, we simply couldn't turn it off. Even my kids were having a blast pointing out continuity errors and laughing at the atrociously bad acting. When A Talking Cat!?! finally reached its merciful end, Netflix had the gall to recommend several OTHER films by the same director, including A Talking Pony!?! and An Easter Bunny Puppy ...needless to say we chose to ignore those recommendations.
Now It Makes Sense...Sorta
Hours after it was over, I still found myself puzzled by A Talking Cat's soft-porn production values and occasional hints at, errr, shall we say "adult situations," so my curiosity eventually made me pay a visit to the film's IMDb page. It turns out that "Mary Crawford," the director of A Talking Cat!?!, is actually a pseudonym for schlock kingpin David DeCoteau, who's been cranking out no budget Z-movies for the direct to video market since the mid 1980s. He's directed cult hits like the Alien ripoff Creepozoids, the irresistibly-titled Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, and several installments of the Puppet Master series, but in recent years the openly gay DeCoteau (not that there's anything wrong with that) has become best known for his "1313" series of direct-to-video softcore horror features, of which there are at least a dozen installments as of this writing. The "1313" flicks are all filmed in and around DeCoteau's actual home - the mansion which also serves as "Phil's" house in A Talking Cat!?! Credit must be given here, It's a VERY nice house. Directing no-budget crap like this must pay better than I thought!) The gay-themed "1313" series is also distinguished by its rotating casts of young, buff male actors who apparently spend most of each movie running around in their tidy whities and not much else. Wow. Suddenly Chris and Trent's "pool scene" in A Talking Cat!?! makes a lot more sense...
The film's porn associations don't stop there, either. According to IMDb, Kristin DeBell once played "Alice" in an X-Rated 1976 version of Alice In Wonderland before moving on to other, more "mainstream" roles!!
It would appear that DeCoteau's been making quickie kid-flicks like these as a sidebar for a couple of years now, including Santa's Summer House, A Halloween Puppy, My Stepbrother is a Vampire, and Christmas Spirit. Unfortunately, I can't blame him for Step Dogs, which was made by someone else. After witnessing the travesty that is A Talking Cat!?!, I will make sure to steer clear of anything else with DeCoteau's—or "Crawford's"—name on it. You've been warned, folks. If Netflix recommends any of the above named movies to you, do yourself a favor and just hit yourself in the head with the remote a few dozen times. It'd be less painful.