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Murder of a Cat

D: Gillian Greene / 101m

Cast: Fran Kranz, Nikki Reed, J.K. Simmons, Greg Kinnear, Blythe Danner, Leo Nam, Brian Turk, Aidan Andrews

Clinton Moisey (Kranz) is still smarting after the closure of his comic book store, thanks to the arrival of a large supermarket called Ford’s. He lives with his mother, Edie (Danner) and his pet cat Mouser. Recently, Mouser has been disappearing for long periods and doesn’t seem his old self. When Clinton takes Mouser to the vet’s, it’s all put down to his advanced age. Clinton isn’t so sure, but things take a darker turn the next morning when he wakes to find Mouser lying dead in the road outside his home, and with a bolt from a crossbow sticking out of him.

Clinton calls the police. Sheriff Hoyle (Simmons) arrives but decides there’s not much he can do except file a report and hope for the best. Clinton is outraged by this, and decides to find out who killed Mouser by himself. A local boy (Andrews) tells him that he saw Mouser just after he was hit by the bolt, and it wasn’t outside Clinton’s home. When the boy shows him the spot where he saw Mouser, Clinton is shocked to see a lost pet poster that shows a picture of Mouser, but under another name, and with an address on it. He finds the address and encounters Greta (Reed). It transpires that her home was where Mouser was disappearing off to. After some initial suspicion about each other’s motives, she and Clinton agree to try and find out who killed Mouser.

Greta recognises the bolt as one that would have been sold at Ford’s. She used to work there until recently, but doesn’t say why she left. At Ford’s they discover that the brand of crossbow used is only sold in that one store, but when the store’s owner, Al Ford (Kinnear), refuses to show them details of any purchases, Clinton causes a scene and is thrown out. Later, he sneaks into the store’s warehouse and finds that the shelf where the crossbows are kept is empty; he also learns that one of the employees, Yi Kim (Nam) is using the crossbow boxes to remove computer equipment from the store and sell it to a fence.

Things become further complicated when Clinton misreads Greta’s growing interest in him, and Sheriff Hoyle is revealed to be dating his mother. When he tells the sheriff about Yi Kim’s activities, he manages to persuade Hoyle to go to Kim’s house and search it. They don’t find anything, but Clinton swipes Yi’s phone. On it he finds several photos that prove what Yi is doing, but when he takes this evidence to Al Ford, he finds the store owner depressed over his impending divorce, and certain that the fence Yi is selling to is actually Greta…

Murder of a Cat - scene

On the face of it, Murder of a Cat is a quirky, noir-tinged murder mystery with an unlikely victim, and an even more unlikely “detective”. Clinton Moisey is an adolescent trapped in an adult’s body, an older, less hyper Fred Figglehorn perhaps, but with the same selfish, socially awkward behaviour and lack of empathy towards others. When he implores Sheriff Hoyle to find Mouser’s murder, his outrage at Hoyle’s disinterest is evident but also a little unnerving. It’s the intensity that makes Clinton seem like a crazy person, and while the movie spends quite a lot of time supporting his search for justice, where the narrative takes him actually robs his cause of any emotional investment made by the viewer. As the thefts from Ford’s take priority over the murder investigation, so Clinton becomes less intense (if still determined), and his shaggy mop top gives way to a more coiffured hairstyle, changing both his look and his attitude.

By providing Clinton with a makeover, the movie ultimately robs him of the demanding, aggressive, petulant behaviour that makes him stand out in the first place. In short, he mellows, and while this may have seemed like a great idea for a character arc, it actually means the opposite: Clinton becomes less interesting as the movie goes on, and other characters – Ford, in particular – take over. It’s a strange process to watch, as a movie’s main character, though still driving the narrative forward, ends up being a bit of a bystander in his own story. Thanks to the script by Robert Snow and Christian Magalhaes, the movie never overcomes this approach and often stalls as Clinton struggles to make the next connection in the mystery. It’s as if they didn’t trust his dogged determination – a trait all the great detectives share – to fully engage the audience, and were uncertain if his way of behaving would invoke any sympathy.

The movie is further undone by some trite and unconvincing dialogue, some of which sounds so awkward that the cast do well in dealing with it all. Kinnear is saddled with some of the stiffest lines in recent memory – “I am a phony, kid. You were right about that. My whole life’s been an act” is one of the more memorable challenges he has to overcome, but there are plenty more where that came from, and though as mentioned above the cast do their best, it’s still too noticeable for comfort.

Of the cast, Kranz is a committed Clinton, absurdly childish and arrogant but lacking the support from the script and from Greene to make Clinton more likeable. Reed is efficient but used mostly to fill in the blanks in the story (she has a lot of exposition to deal with), while Simmons and Danner tread water with characters who come perilously close to being stereotypes. It’s Kinnear who makes the most impact though, taking an unevenly detailed character and making Ford the most interesting role by the movie’s end. It’s a small triumph that boosts Murder of a Cat in its last half hour, and without it, would have made the movie end on a whimper.

This is Greene’s first feature, but even though she’s the wife of Sam Raimi, it’s clear she hasn’t learnt too much from him, directing the majority of scenes with a flat, often bland approach that hurts the movie tonally and waters down both the drama and the often haphazard comedy elements, making some parts of the movie feel undeveloped. It’s a shame as there is the germ of a really good idea here, but sadly, it could – and should – have been a whole lot better.

Rating: 5/10 – a missed opportunity for everyone concerned, and the kind of movie that proves endlessly frustrating to watch, Murder of a Cat loses ground quickly and never recovers; it aims for quirky and bizarre but in reality is actually tedious and too rudimentary to work effectively throughout.