Murder of a Cat: Tribeca Review

Tribeca Film Festival
Considering that the cat dies early in the film, it was a mercy killing.

Fran Kranz stars in Gillian Greene's debut feature about an overgrown man-child who attempts to find the killer of his beloved feline.

Wasting the talents of such reliable veteran performers as Greg Kinnear, Blythe Danner and J.K. Simmons, Murder of a Cat is the sort of would-be satirical comedy that substitutes forced quirkiness for humor to relentlessly grating effect. Gillian Greene’s debut feature, produced by her husband, Sam Raimi, and receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, woefully fails in its attempt to be a comic, modern-day noir.

It also features one of the most irritating lead characters in recent memory in the form of Clinton (Fran Kranz), a 20-something man-child who still lives with his mother (Danner) and who spends his unlimited free time peddling his line of homemade toys at garage sales. Clinton’s only apparent friend is Mouser, his 17-year-old cat, who, as the title makes clear, winds up dead, the victim of a crossbow attack.

Receiving little help from the suburban town’s genial sheriff (Simmons), who’s more interested in romancing his mother, Clinton sets out to solve the crime like an overgrown Encyclopedia Brown. His investigation leads him to hairstylist Greta (Nikki Reed), whose cat bearing a suspicious resemblance to Mouser has gone missing. It turns out that Mouser was a “moonlighting” feline owned by both parties and that the murder weapon was exclusively sold at the town’s mega-store where Greta used to work, owned by local celebrity Al Ford (Kinnear).

Initially hostile to the endlessly grating Clinton, Greta joins forces with him anyway, their amateur sleuthing leading to the discovery of an elaborate scam being perpetrated at the store, apparently by a young Korean-American sales clerk (Leo Nam). The duo’s efforts, observed with alternate bemusement and exasperation by the sheriff, uncover a dark side to the store’s owner, who’s eventually revealed to be a nutcase obsessed with the John Wayne film Angel and the Badman. Along the way, Clinton, thanks largely to a flattering new hairstyle courtesy of Greta, becomes something of a hunk displaying a newfound maturity.

The major miscalculation by director Greene and screenwriters Robert Snow and Christian Magalhaes (New Girl) is that they seem to think that their eccentric hero is somehow endearing in his immature demeanor and boorish self-absorption. The eventual romance that develops between him and the gorgeously sexy Greta is but one of the film’s endless incredulities.

Admittedly handed a tough assignment, Kranz is unable to make the character remotely appealing or amusing. The supporting players fare better, with Simmons very funny in his deadpan reactions to Clinton’s transgressions and Kinnear finding unexpected depth within his unhinged store owner.

According to the production notes, the screenplay was discovered on the Hollywood Black List, which ranks the industry’s hottest unproduced scripts. It makes one shudder to think about the entries that didn’t make the cut.

Production: BabyItsColdOutside Pictures, Seine Pictures

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

Director: Gillian Greene

Screenwriters: Robert Snow, Christian Magalhaes

Producers: Molly Hassell, Sam Raimi, Gillian Greene, Ivan Orlic

Executive producers: Adam Kolbrenner, Robyn Meisinger, Arianne Fraser

Director of photography: Christophe Lanzenberg

Production designer: Krystyna Loboda

Costume designer: Shawn-Holly Cookson

Editor: Eric L. Beason

Music: Deborah Lurie

No rating, 96 minutes