THAT DARN CAT (1997)
This isn’t your parents’ That Darn Cat! Which is actually unfortunate, because for all the hipness that the cat on the poster (who isn’t the cat from the actual film, by the way) exudes with his sunglasses and hypno-spiral, this remake is but a pale shadow of the goofy detective flick from the ’60s. Directed by Bob Spiers, That Darn Cat is nothing if not busy, but does any of it add up to an actual movie?
Somewhere in Boston, a rich couple (Dean Jones and Dyan Cannon) are going about their business when a couple of masked villains sneak into their kitchen and kidnap their maid (Rebecca Coon). Sadly, no one cares about her plight. Not her employers, not the audience, and apparently not the filmmakers, as she’s the only named character to get billed below the cat.
It’s always good to center your plot around a character that nobody cares about.
Cut to young Patti Randall (Christina Ricci), a slightly gothy teen who hates her life in the stupid boring town of Edgefield, along with all of the stupid boring people who live there. She does, however, love her cat, D.C. (Elvis). Her parents (Bess Armstrong and Michael McKean) eat up valuable movie time by dragging her all across town where we meet various characters who we have no reason to care about.
The titular darn cat looks like it wants to escape from this movie already.
Eventually, D.C. stumbles upon the kidnapping victim in the course of his nocturnal cat-wanderings. The maid scratches a cry for help onto the back of her watch and puts it around the feline’s neck. Oh, no! The cat is now the sole witness to a crime. After 20 minutes of this 90-minute film, the plot has only just started. Oof.
This is the second best movie I’ve seen where a kidnapped woman forces a cat to wear a watch.
Discovering a watch with the word “Hell” etched into the back around the neck of her cat, Patti somehow immediately figures out that it is an incomplete call for “Help” from a kidnapping victim, and not just the antics of local Satanists (a constant threat in the ’90s!). Naturally, she immediately takes this information to the FBI, where she is somehow taken seriously, and bumbling agent Zeke Kelso (Doug E. Doug) is assigned to her case.
He can drop an elephant out of a plane, but can he follow a cat to a crime scene?
Kelso gathers a team of FBI agents to track D.C. in hopes that he will return to wherever the watch originated. This plan is stupid for several reasons:
1.) If you put a watch on a cat that doesn’t want to wear a watch, it probably won’t come and visit you the next evening.
2.) If you send a team of FBI agents after it, a cat is probably going to freak the fuck out and hide somewhere.
3.) Cats are faster than FBI agents, and can more easily fit through crannies.
4.) You’re probably going to scare off the criminals by running around town chasing a cat.
5.) It’s the ’90s and you’re the goddamn FBI, put a radio collar on the cat and follow it that way.
6.) Cats just don’t give a fuck.
The stupid plan fails, a ruckus is caused, and Zeke is taken off the case. But to save his wounded pride, he goes and tries again, this time just following the cat by himself. This is slightly less idiotic than the last plan, but not by much. This time, he and Patti misconstrue the weird actions of all her neighbors to be a massive and ill-conceived conspiracy. But they get arrested, so everything falls apart.
After she gets out, Patti anticlimactically stumbles upon the kidnappers. Hooray. Turns out it’s some old couple we were introduced to in the first couple minutes (Rebecca Schull and Peter Boyle), but who were entirely uninteresting.
Badass, but also unrewarding.
Then, just when you think the movie is going to slip into a merciful end, a ridiculous car chase erupts. Every character spews forced one liners as they all pursue each other around their tiny shitty town.
None of their jokes are worth repeating here. Or anywhere.
The chase flies by a funeral, a body pops out of a coffin and someone shouts, “That’s not him!” What? That one line is more interesting than the entire rest of the film. Who died? How were the bodies switched? WHAT HAS GONE WRONG IN THE WORLD?!? Never mind, that scene is over, and it’s back to car shenanigans.
Vrooom! It’s a less racist Dukes of Hazzard!
Because this movie is supposedly about a cat, D.C. leads a herd of other felines from a local cat show across the rooftops to jump (possibly to their deaths) onto the bad guys’ car.
The bad guys crash. Everyone is happy. Several cats may have died. The town is destroyed. The end.
In her first scene, Patti gives a long speech about how tiresome and dull her town is. Over the course of the film, through the eyes of her cat, we see into the various secret lives of its townspeople. Old Lady McCracken (Estelle Parsons) catfishes people over the phone. The butcher, Lu (Megan Cavanagh), dresses up in fancy clothes late at night to dance across the street and leave secret packages of meat for her crush (Thomas F. Wilson). Two dueling mechanics (John Ratzenberger and Mark Christopher Lawrence) yell at each other by day, and sabotage each other’s vehicles by night. And of course, there’s the old kidnapping couple. The moral? Every town is interesting if you know where to look!
And where to look is apparently the butcher shop, after dark.
But wait a minute. With the exception of the butcher and her love (whose story is actually really cute, and well acted, and deserves to be the subplot of a much better movie), all of Patti’s neighbors are living violent angry lives full of deception and cruelty. In the end, their terrible terrible antics lead to the literal demolition of the entire town. Yet this is viewed by Patti, and presumably the audience, as a good thing. The revised moral? Wanton chaos and destruction is better than a dull but happy small town life. Hooray?
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
That Darn Cat is fairly miserable, yet its plot is ostensibly the same as its thoroughly enjoyable predecessor. What went wrong? Well, when you place the two movies next to each other, several of the remake’s missteps become quite clear. Right off the bat, it takes too long for the later film to establish its premise. In the 1965 version, the opening music plays over D.C. fucking with a junkyard dog and stealing its food. The cat is clearly a badass. Then, the moment the credits are over, the cat walks in on the kidnappers. Boom. Instantly we know and like our cat, and we know what the conflict will be. In 1997, however, it takes 20 minutes for D.C. to get the watch put around his neck, and he doesn’t do anything worth commenting on beforehand. He’s a dull cat.
He does fiddle with a sausage. But that isn’t cool, really.
Our next problem is Doug E. Doug. I feel kind of bad saying that, because he’s obviously giving it his all, but that’s kind of the problem. See, the idea of an FBI agent following a cat around is inherently goofy, so the role calls for a straight man. Dean Jones filled that role perfectly in the original. He kept his cool under the stupidest of circumstances, and that’s what made it funny. Doug E. Doug is just a goofball. And a zany actor in a zany situation can be just a little too much to stomach.
I’m sorry, Mr. Doug, but no.
These alone might be enough to tank this remake, but it also seems incapable of juggling its background characters. Characters for whom we have no context just stroll into the frame, do something irrelevant, and leave again. It’s jarring, and unpleasant. Who is this weird cat show attending bigshot? I don’t know, but the movie makes him seem like he’s important for the 30 seconds or so he’s on the screen. If this had become a classic, I would be concerned.
It’s a mystery.
- The terrible faux-ska song that kicks off this remake is a horrible downgrade from the jazzy opening number that the Sherman Brothers provided for the original.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
The film goes out of its way to make fun of one character’s various plastic surgeries, which in and of itself isn’t super cool, but isn’t anything out of the ordinary for a crappy ’90s comedy. But then, just moments later, some criminals are sneaking up on another middle-aged woman, and one comments, “Wow, she’s an ugly old broad, isn’t she? You’d think with all her billions she could afford a plastic surgeon.” Shit. Age naturally and you’re ugly. Get plastic surgery and you’re vain. It’s a catch-42.
Sorry, ladies, getting older is an unpardonable offense in the wonderful world of Disney.
If you try to watch 1997’s That Darn Cat, you’ll die of boredom nine times. HAHAHAHA. Cat jokes. I’m the worst. Go watch the original.
Mr. Magoo (1997)