Murder mysteries have sort have disappeared from movie theaters in recent times. Gone are the days of pulpy film noirs with shadowy characters and anti-heroes tempted by sexy and morally-ambiguous femme fatales. The new oddball comedy Murder of a Cat attempts to travel back to the era of film noir, using a feline as the murder victim and a slacker man-child as the private dick investigating the crime. It is a film that tries to be cute and succeeds here and there but it ultimately falls flat and offers nothing new or special. The film’s saving grace would simply have to be the performances, which while funny, can’t save this picture from mediocrity.
Clinton Moisey (Fran Kranz) is your quintessential slacker. He is about 30 years of age and he lives in his mother’s (Blythe Danner) basement, is attached to a bathrobe, and spends his mornings watching reruns of Who’s the Boss. He also has makes custom action figures in his spare time and holds regular yard sales consisting of junk nobody wants. One day, he finds his beloved cat Mouser dead in the street, with an arrow sticking out of its body. With his beloved pet and friend murdered, Clinton then goes on a mission to find Mouser’s killer, at all costs. Along the way, he crosses paths with some interesting characters and falls into some rather strange situations.
In his quest for justice/revenge, Clinton encounters Greta (Nikki Reed), an attractive young woman who also loved Mouser. She knew him as Horatio, however and Clinton had no idea that they both “shared” the cat. J.K. Simmons plays the straight man Sheriff Hoyle and goes along with Clinton but doesn’t really believe that it was murder. A wacky Greg Kinnear plays Ford, the owner of local Walmart-like superstore. Somehow, all of these people become involved in the intrigue surrounding Mouser’s demise and the results are weird, funny, but sadly rather average.
Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing) is the true star of Murder of a Cat. He plays Clinton as a lovable loser, a serious individual with an unflinching desire to expose the truth. Clinton doesn’t realize how ridiculous he’s being and that lack of awareness is really funny to watch. This film is his show through and through and he is just hysterical. The terrific J.K. Simmons is also quite strong here as the local law enforcement official who gets roped into the twisted scenario. Greg Kinnear also brings the laughs in an otherwise, hopeless film.
Murder of a Cat is a cute little indie that features a very silly plot and some very off-the-wall but amusing characters. Produced by Sam Raimi and directed by his wife (Gillian Greene), this is a movie perfect for a random late night pick that will generate a few chuckles. Hopefully, Kranz will get a more high profile gig soon because he has definitely demonstrated a strong competence on the film screen. He is a big talent and a consummate funnyman. With echoes of the Coen bros., Murder of a Cat is a watered down dark comedy with some clever moments and funny performances but sadly, not enough to sustain a feature-length film.