I suspect many of you share this suspicion: Have you ever had the gut-wrenching feeling that at some point in your daily life, you accidentally slipped into an alternate universe where Hollywood is not making legitimate movies, but parodies exclusively? Like you're in an episode of "The Simpsons," or inside the pages of an issue of MAD Magazine, and all the movies are meant to be joke versions of other movies? Every time a movie with a title like Kung Fu Panda or Space Chimps is released, I get that feeling. There was a time when movies with titles like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters would be throw-off gags in an episode of "Family Guy," or a spoof reel featured on "The Critic." Remember the slightly absurd pitch meetings seen in Robert Altman's The Player? Stuff like that is now too tame for Hollywood; it's not stupid enough. I suspect it won't be long before we're seeing actual multi-million-dollar film versions of Scent of a Wolfman or Black to the Future. It's like the irony knob on Hollywood's often-faulty culture-sensing-culture-creating machine was cranked so high that it broke, and now either nothing is ironic, or everything is. It's hard to tell anymore.
So I had some doubts as to whether or not “Mary Crawford's” 2013 kid flick A Talking Cat!?! was intended to be a real feature film, or just a funny gag of some sort. The film's poster wasn't any help, as all I saw was a puffy Johnny Whitaker (from "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters") and Kristine DeBell (from Meatballs and Bill Osco's awesome 1976 X-rated musical version of Alice in Wonderland) as well as some nondescript attractive young people gathered cheerfully around a little, blank-faced kitty, baffled as to how a cat could talk. It looked just as convincing as any of the fake Criterion covers I see floating around the internet. That it also billed Eric Roberts as the titular talking cat actually hurt its credibility.
Yes, I assure you, this is a real movie. It was really filmed (in the director's house), it starred real actors, including the real Eric Roberts. I watched the trailer, and I watched the completed film, and I am here, my dear readers, to report on my findings.
To start with, A Talking Cat!?! was actually directed by Z-grade cult horror movie luminary David DeCoteau, working under a pseudonym. DeCoteau is the man responsible for over a hundred cheapo, often gay-coded “thrillers” like the well-documented Brotherhood series, the 1313 series, and numerous other low-low budget horror/comedy thrillers like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama and Beach Babes from Beyond, to cite only the best-titled films in his oeuvre. His films are typically very slow paced, feature a lot of hunky guys with nice abs, and in many cases, those same hunky guys will strip down to their boxer-briefs and run half-naked through DeCoteau's own house. In a way, he's livin' the dream. Indeed, A Talking Cat!?! is one of many of DeCoteau's films that was clearly shot in his own enormous Malibu mansion using his own furniture, his own swimming pool, and his own bedroom. (If you ever manage to see any of the 1313 movies, you'll get to know the layout of that house really well.) DeCoteau owns one of the coolest couches I've ever seen; it's the back half of a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle converted into a loveseat. I covet it.
So here are the rules of this universe. A housecat named Duffy (body by Squeaky, voice by Eric Roberts) has been given, in his life, a magical collar that allows him to voice his opinions. Duffy is only allowed to speak to people one time in their lives, however, so he has decided to use his gift to aid them in their business and romantic ventures. His words of wisdom are usually along the lines of “You should go for a walk!” or “Check your machine!” Otherwise, we hear Duffy give an interior monologue, which consists of phrases like “Feed me,” or “I'm what you call a Human Whisperer.” I don't know if Roberts was trying to nail a sleepy, Lorenzo Music tone to his performance, or if he was just very drunk when he recorded his lines, but he seems slurred and lazy and sleepy most of the time. Often he'll seem kind of gooftastic, as when he makes “yum yum” noises while a cat eats tuna on camera. What's more, Roberts' voice sounds muffled or something. I wouldn't be surprised if Roberts actually recorded his lines on Skype or over the telephone. The actual cat-talking effect is one of the cheapest you'll ever see, as a simple computerized black slit was merely superimposed over a real cat to serve as its moving lips. Seriously, hand-drawn animation done right on a film strip would have looked better. It's almost wonderful to think that in this age of super-slick and overdesigned CGI monstrosities, that some special effects can actually still look this bad.
The story: Whitaker plays a recently retired internet mogul named Phil who has decided to spend more time with his teenage son Chris (Justin Cone). Chris is a skinny, seemingly gay young man who nevertheless has a crush on the local hot girl Frannie (Alison Sieke) who keeps making eyes at him, and often insists they go swimming together. The embarrassing thing: Chris never learned to swim, and is too proud to tell Frannie. This is the major stumbling block in their relationship. Meanwhile, the local neighbors have drama of their own. Susan (DeBell) is trying to woo some vague group of off-screen “investors,” and hopes to impress them with her cheese puffs. Susan's teenage daughter Tina (Janis Pebbles) is an ambitious young internet mogul herself, and constantly snipes at her aimless older brother Trent (Daniel Dannas) for having no ambition. Eventually Duffy, wandering back and forth between the two families, will dispense just the right kind of advice, fixing their problems. Eventually the gay son and the foxy chick will fall in love, Phil and Susan will fall in love, the shiftless boy will grow some self-confidence, and the ambitious chick will land an internship with the retired millionaire. Along the way, we'll get to see both the boys with their shirts off.
Some notable details: There's a really weird montage where Phil and Chris scan articles of clothing, using a small desk lamp, for a fashion algorithm that Tina is working on. There's also a scene where Whitaker, not exactly a slim fellow, is seen on a bed in a t-shirt and boxers, splaying his package out right on front of the camera. It's an embarrassing angle for everyone, including the cat. Also, I think about 25-35 minutes of A Talking Cat!?!'s brief 85-minute runtime is devoted to dreamy establishing shots of DeCoteau's mansion, a Malibu beach, a running stream, and lovely shots of the woods. I don't know if there are any sort of figures on this, but A Talking Cat!?! seems to have one of the greatest percentages of coverage of any movie.
What's with the music in this flick? It's all Casio keyboard sampling, that's what. The music in any given scene (oddly credited to Harry Manfredini, the man behind the music in the Friday the 13th movies) seems to play kind of randomly. When Whitaker and DeBell meet for the first time, an ostensibly romantic scene, we're treated to a synth marimba version of “La Cucaracha.” What? Later in the film, when DeBell is scooping cheese puffs from a cookie sheet into a big aluminum tin, the score implies that this is the single most emotional moment of her life. It's more than a matter of melodrama. I sense that the score was selected before scenes were actually shot.
A Talking Cat!?! is on DVD today, and is available on Netflix instant streaming, where it's already garnering some gloriously snarky reviews. I sense that this flick, alongside crap like Thankskilling, might start making minor circuits as the next film in American dorms' "Bad Movie Nights." It's not quite crazy or energetic enough to be a proper Bad Movie Night kind of movie – indeed the film is pretty effing boring – but you can do much worse when looking for a bad movie.
Wait. Did that make sense? After watching this movie, can anything make sense? I think I need to lay down. Or drink. Possibly both.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.