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Film review: That Darn Cat

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

In mythology, cats are supposed to have nine lives. But the film "That Darn Cat" was only worth one incarnation.

Granted, the 1965 original, based on the book "Undercover Cat," was enjoyable enough — especially on the face of performances from its stars, Hayley Mills and Dean Jones. But the 1997 remake (of sorts) amounts to little more than a vanity vehicle for teen actress Christina Ricci and an excuse for comic mayhem.

Along the way, there's a weak attempt to tell a story and a half-hearted effort to inject some humor into the tedium. Neither is entirely successful, so while youngish audiences may be amused, adults will be bored with all the silliness.

Ricci plays Patti Randall, an angst-ridden teenager living in Edgefield, Mass. Unfortunately for her long-suffering parents (Bess Armstrong and Michael McKean), the black-clad youth is bored with her surroundings, especially since everything seems to be so "normal" there.

However, when her curious feline D.C. ("Darn Cat") is prowling around Edgefield's strange nightlife scene, he discovers the hideout for a pair of mysterious kidnappers who have abducted the servant of the millionaire Mr. Flint (Dean Jones, in a bit of stunt casting).

Despite the fact the D.C. has brought back a clue (the maid's watch), Patti has a hard time convincing local FBI agents to look into things — except for Zeke Kelso (Doug E. Doug, from TV's "Cosby"), a bumbling second-generation investigator who has been reduced to the bureau's errand boy.

You can probably guess what happens next just from that synopsis, and that's another one of the film's big flaws — it's bland and predictable, with very little energy.

The film also wastes an extremely talented supporting cast (including Dyan Cannon, Estelle Parsons, Peter Boyle, John Ratzenberger and Rebecca Schull) by not giving them much to do. To their credit, Doug and McKean try to add a little depth to their characters. But they're undermined by an extremely shallow script that's strictly out for yucks — and doesn't find many of them.

Director Bob Spiers (a veteran of British television who's directed episodes of "Absolutely Fabulous," "Fawlty Towers" and "Are You Being Served?") doesn't bring much to the table, either, with uninspired photography and slow pacing.

But what hurts most is that the central character is so unlikable. In fact, Ricci's wooden performance and delivery here are eerily reminiscent of her acting in the "Addams Family" films — except that she at least had a sense of humor in those movies.

"That Darn Cat" is rated PG for violence, most of it slapstick or comedic in nature, a few scattered profanities and one highly inappropriate and vulgar sex joke.

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