…I don’t even know where to begin…
I first learned about the existence of A Talking Cat!?! a few weeks back while surfing one of my favorite subreddits. I frequently lurk on/r/badmovies because I absolutely love godawful cinema, and I enjoy sharing in that unique affection with other connoisseurs of questionable tastes. When I discovered this gem in the sea of bad late-1970s sci-fi action movies that were being talked about, I decided to hop on to Netflix and give this movie it’s shot.
That was two weeks ago.
I still don’t know where to begin.
This was made for children.
A Talking Cat!?! tells us the stories of two broken homes. Phil, played by child actor-turned-Hollywood agent-turned-deli owner-turned-actor Johnny Whitaker, is a wealthy computing mogul who sells his company so that he can retire and spend more time with his son in their spacious home from 1313: Nightmare Mansion. Phil’s son, the nerdy, socially awkward, almost borderline-autistic Chris (Justin Cone), could not care less about his father sacrificing his life’s work in order to build a relationship with him. He’s too caught up in being a tutor for Frannie, a young woman who more or less admits to being a complete dunce in need of constant help with her scholastics. In the very same scene in which she admits this learning disability, she more or less throws herself at Chris, only for him to be completely oblivious to her advances.
The other family in this ordeal focuses on Susan, portrayed by Alice in Wonderland (not the Disney version, and let’s leave it at that) star Kristine DeBell. Susan is a lower middle-class single mom who runs her own catering business with the help of her genius, business-minded, somewhat awful wretch of a daughter, Tina (Janis Peebles, no relation to Mario van). Tina spends a solid third of her screen time openly mocking her brother, Trent, simply because he isn’t as brilliant as she supposedly is. You see, Trent is a simple man with simple goals in life – namely, none. He is on a quest to discover himself and his purpose in this crazy world of magic talking cats, all while fixing the same white picket fence in every scene and enduring the constant verbal and emotional assaults of his stuck-up sister.
The lives of both families are changed forever when they encounter Duffy, a feline that you’re led to believe is adorable on the poster, but in the film itself is… just kind of sad, really. You see, Duffy has been given the ability to speak to humans by his previous owner, who was apparently a warlock practitioner of the Satanic arts. However, for reasons that are never quite explained, Duffy can only speak to a person once – maybe said warlock had a screwy sense of humor, I don’t know. Duffy uses his one opportunity to frighten his human counterparts before dishing out life advice which, not surprisingly, helps the humans achieve their modest goals.
Duffy is the star of the show, and it is only appropriate that the star be given the star treatment. So who better to dispense the sage advice of a household pet than Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts?
Yes, that Eric Roberts – and you know what? This is the kind of performance that lifts movies like this from the dregs of “ABC Family original” to “all-time cheesy classic.” I can’t even begin to express how badly I wish I could go back in time and be a fly on the wall of the Roberts household the day he recorded these lines.
I can picture it now: Eric Roberts rolls out of bed sometime after 2:00pm, shuffling into the kitchen in his bathrobe and Power 98 boxers to pour himself a cup of coffee that went cold six hours ago. He glances over at the clock on the microwave – taking no small amount of pride in being able to actually set that damn thing – and sees that it’s already mid-afternoon.
“Shit,” he grumbles, sipping on lukewarm coffee. He tries to wake himself up with a splash of cold water from the sink before stumbling across the living room to his computer. Plugging in his $20 iPod earbuds and a $30 Logitech microphone he picked up from Staples the night before, thinking hell, it’s a microphone, they all sound the same as he calls in to director David DeCoteau over Skype. Opening the previously unread email that simply reads “IMPORTANT: UNTITLED FELINE FANTASY FICTION SCRIPT,” Eric clears his throat once or twice, engages in a few minutes of idle chitchat with Mr. DeCoteau, and proceeds to ramble off every line of dialogue Duffy has in a single glorious take.
Behold just one of the many slurred, half-asleep monologues given by this man whom, I cannot stress enough, was once nominated for an Academy Award:
The sad part is that Eric Roberts’ phoned-in (literally) performance as Duffy is the closest thing A Talking Cat!?! has to a “highlight.” The rest of the film is downright unpleasant to watch. You see, when trying to gauge the quality of a bad movie, there are many tiers:
- Bad Films : Transformers, Star Trek Into Darkness, Green Lantern, etc.
These are movies that have huge budgets, big-name filmmakers, and a star-studded cast. What your typical bad movie suffers from is either shoddy direction, a lack of cohesion (“Khan’s blood CURES DEATH FOR SPOCK’S SAKE” ), a terribad script, or a cast that’s there for a paycheck. At their best these are fine popcorn movies, but try not to think too much into it.
- So Bad They’re Good: Double Dragon, Road House, Break Point, Con Air, etc.
These are typically movies that have big budgets and either a star-studded cast or a big-name lead. What makes these movies so bad they’re good, I find, is either the absurdity of the premise or the failure of execution – typically in regards to visual effects. Street Fighter is a damn fine example of this on every front; the plot made no sense, the cast seemed to be having fun with it, and… oh, who am I kidding: Raul Julia made that movie.
- Camp Classic: Street Fighter, Batman & Robin, The Wicker Man, Jaws 4: The Revenge, etc.
Sometimes, when watching a movie, you can tell that the actors know that they’re making a ten-foot turd. Other times when watching a movie, you can tell that the actors have absolutely no idea that they’re making a ten-foot turd. On the rare occasion, you find a movie where actors from Camp Self-Aware intermingle with the members of Tribe Oblivious, and the results are absolutely golden.
- Low-Budget Bad: Manos: The Hands of Fate, Birdemic, The Room, etc.
Before I go any further, it needs to be said: Manos: The Hands of Fate is irredeemably bad. I know that it has its “fans” in many circles, mostly because of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax versions of the film, but I just… I can’t do it. It’s so bad that not even the combined wit from the masters of movie mockery can save it. The rest of these kinds of movies suffer from the combination of overly ambitious filmmaker and a complete lack of budget. Don’t believe me? Watch Birdemic.
- So Bad They’re Bad : Mannequin, Ishtar, Jaws 3D, etc.
These are movies that look like they could be so bad they’re good. They have the budget of a So Bad They’re Good, they have the cast of a So Bad They’re Good, they even have the look of a So Bad They’re Good… but then the production takes it up to eleven, and it just becomes an unwatchable, embarrassing train wreck.
…and then there’s A Talking Cat!?! , sitting atop its own perch – the patriarch of its own unique brand of awful that cannot be comprehended without effort, let alone actually explained to other people. The acting is universally bad – bad in that way where the one good actor looks even worse because they’re surrounded by the bad actors. The pacing is non-existent, which makes sense when you consider that they’re stretching the premise for a five-minute short into a 90-minute movie. When Phil goes for a walk in the woods, we see transition shots of a tropical island getaway before cutting back to a 60-year-old man huffing and puffing through the Redwood National Park. And Phil’s mansion, where 70% of this movie takes place? You can’t help but get that vibe that somebody has died there.
“But James,” you’ll argue futilly. “Some terrible movies have had fantastic soundtracks. Look at the Star Wars prequels, for instance!” First of all, the Star Wars prequels weren’t bad – I’m sure I’ll go into that someday. Secondly, the soundtrack? You heard it! In the trailer – it repeats six or seven times throughout the movie, making you think you’ve stumbled into snuff footage from Pennywise’s clown college.
While it would certainly be easy to mock this movie and everyone involved with it, A Talking Cat!?! is a production where you can’t help but feel sorry for the people involved. This isn’t the kind of movie that Johnny Whitaker or Kristine DeBell want as their big “I’m back” feature. This isn’t the kind of movie that poor Daniel Dannas, who is billed as “And Introducing…” wants to build a career off of. This isn’t the kind of movie Eric Roberts would… who am I kidding, Eric Roberts probably doesn’t even remember recording his lines.
A Talking Cat!?! is bad, in every measurable sense of the term “bad.” It’s “rotten eggs” bad. It’s “caught my wife with my best friend” bad. It’s “we’re naming a flesh-eating bacteria after you” bad. And yet, when it’s on… you won’t turn it off. Hell, you can’t turn it off. You sit there and you’re half-expecting the camera to pull back, revealing this to be a meta-movie that characters are watching in a much deeper, engaging, intentionally humorous film.
I don’t know what else to say about this movie, so I’m just going to let an actual line of dialogue speak for me.
A talking cat?! That’s just stupid! That’s the best you could come up with?
It’s on Netflix Instant right now. I urge each and every one of you to find it, and watch it. You must. It’s the only way that you will be able to understand. But be warned: even if you love godawful movies, this one will push you to the very brink.
But at least Eric Roberts is in it.