I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low budget horror, sci-fi or action movies. I watch'em so you don't have to!
"A Talking Cat!?" (2013)
Starring: Jimmy Whitaker, Christine DeBell, Justin Cone
Directed by: "Mary Crawford" (aka David DeCoteau)
I've always had a weakness for bad movies. Never mind those highbrow flicks that rack up Oscar nominations; give me a forgotten '80s slasher flick with a no-name cast or a SyFy Channel creature feature with a 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 how many absolutely TERRIBLE movies are out there aimed at children - particularly in what I refer to as the "talking animal" genre.
A quick search through your favorite streaming services will reveal hordes of low-budget talking animal comedies, likely inspired by the success of Disney's ongoing Buddies series of films starring talking golden retrievers, though the "art form" goes all the way back to TV's Mr. Ed. In talking animal movies, ordinary household pets (cats, dogs, horses, etc.) can carry on running conversations (sometimes with their humans, other times only with other critters,, so that only the viewers can hear them) and hilarity is supposed to ensue.
My family had 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. Eventually they 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 kids' 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 like 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, country roads and beaches (which help 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 slumming 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!
The Plot (such as it is)...
Our story 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 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) 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 before the film is over, 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. His deep, feline 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." My curiosity eventually brought me 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 - which, apparently, 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 underwear. 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; according to IMDb he's also responsible for 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 for 90 minutes instead. It'd be less painful.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 20, 2015:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 14, 2014:
Hi Cardisa - you are definitely not missing anything if you skip this movie. Even the worst Disney talking-animal nonsense looks like Shakespeare next to this dreck.
Thanks for stopping by! You've been warned, spread the word so others can avoid this movie too!!
Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on April 14, 2014:
I had to check out at least one of your hubs and this was my first choice. I love kiddies movies, but, really hate talking animal movies. I prefer the animals with special talents. I really love Disney animal (non animal talking) movies.This one sounds pretty awful. I also hate low budget films because I like pretty things and money makes movies look better...lol
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 21, 2014:
Thanx Jodah - glad you enjoyed. I watch movies like these so you don't have to!
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 21, 2014:
Wow what a cool hub. 'A Talking Cat' what an original title, sounds like a really crap movie...lol. Was interesting to hear about the actors especially Johnny Whitaker (I can remember him from Family Affair...he played Jody, had a sister Buffy..and butler Mr French). Also Eric Roberts doing the cat's voice. He is better known for playing a movie bad guy/gangster type. I loved the movie Santa Claus Conquered the Martians, had to watch it every Christmas, and good old Mr Ed, still a classic of talking animals. There were also popular movies many years ago starring Donald o'Connor(better known as a singer and dancer) featuring Francis the Talking Mule. I think it's actually where they got the idea of Mr Ed from. Anyway I enjoyed this hub. Voted up.