The question is not the obvious one, "why would Kevin Spacey get involved in Nine Lives, a movie where his character falls into a coma, only to have his soul transfer into a Norwegian Forest cat named Mr. Fuzzypants, voiced by Spacey in a Garfield-esque inner monologue?" That part isn't hard to figure out at all: Spacey makes awful movies all the time, and at least in this case he could do it sitting in a sound booth. It's just a question of what producer has the incriminating photos on any given week.

No, the question is, "why everything else about Nine Lives?" It is astonishingly misguided - not bad, not only that. A lot of movies are bad, and a lot of children's movies in particular are very bad. Nine Lives is something else - it is wrong. It is not the kind of bad when untalented people fail to make something good, and not the kind of bad when the people making a film absolutely do not give a shit if it's good or not as long as it's a commercial play - it is the kind of bad that suggests that the creators were actively making choices that would ruin the film both as art and as a desirable object for consumption. Possibly this is what happens when you hand a magical cat movie off to a director who openly brags in the media about how much he hates cats.

That director being Barry Sonnenfeld, who hasn't ever gotten out of director jail in all the years since Wild Wild West emerged as one of the worst summer tentpole movies in history, but still hadn't until now quite sunk down to the indignity of a kids' movie with a hook so shaggy that Disney has already remade it twice (and let's be fair to Nine Lives: it is utter garbage, but it's better utter garbage than Wild Wild West). He's the leader of a cast and crew making an awe-inspiring number of bad choices, not least of which, of course, was "sign a contract to work on Nine Lives", but I get it, everybody has to eat. Everybody does not, however, have to make something as uniquely off-putting as this fairy tale about a shitty dad who's just a Queens accent away from being Donald Trump, and who learns how to be a better family man by virtue of being thrown off the top of his under-construction skyscraper and then transformed into a hideous CGI abomination.

Specifically, Spacey plays Tom Brand (and in case you are able to close your eyes and grit your teeth and pretend that the "Tom cat" pun isn't there, the end credits make sure that you notice it), an incomprehensibly rich jackass with a notably younger wife, Lara(Jennifer Garner), an adult son from his previous marriage, David (Robbie Amell), and a daughter just one day shy of her eleventh birthday, Rebecca (Malina Weissman), and absolutely undisguised loathing for all of them. He's also building, in downtown Manhattan, what will become "the tallest skyscraper in the northern hemisphere", a phrase used often enough to be stripped of all meaning, and it is this unusually overt ego trip that has put him into some conflict with all the board members of Firebrand, his company, but mostly the ambitious executive Ian Cox (Mark Consuelos). It's Ian who's responsible for knocking Tom from the top of the building during a rainstorm, and who then starts to work double-time to keep David from coming into his own as the manager of Tom's controlling interest in the company while his father lies in intensive care. But Tom the cat is cunning, and David quickly learns to navigate his way through the corridors of power in Firebrand, and together (though without David realising that his dad is a cat now), they are able to stop Ian and concoct a plan to beat the Chicago developers who are also chasing the "tallest skyscraper in the northern hemisphere" record, and have potentially come up with a dirty trick to beat Firebrand by 60 feet.

Why, yes, this children's fantasy film does have fucked-up priorities.

But the story is, truly, a bunch of whatever. Both "man learns to be a better dad through magic bullshit" and "children's movie that accidentally spends all of its energy on corporate politicking" are sufficiently well-established that Nine Lives really doesn't stand out from the pack (it's not even the first movie to cast Christopher Walken as the strange old man who triggers the magic; Click got there back in 2006). It's in the execution that this becomes truly objectionable. There is the matter of CGI Mr. Fuzzypants, to begin with; and let me not give you the wrong impression that the CGI is substandard, for it is quite the opposite. When the cat is animated (around half of its overall screen time, I'd guess), it looks almost entirely indistinguishable from the real animals playing the part. That is, indeed, the source of the film's problems. For the things the CGI cat is called upon to do are things that actual cats cannot do: throw a ball around a room, manipulate a pen, open a bottle of scotch, or merely react to events with a knowing, profound look. It is deeply repulsive to watch him do these things: Mr. Fuzzypants's variety of facial expressions alone would be enough to give me waking nightmares for weeks to come, and those aren't even nearly as unsettling as the scene where he's trying to write a note to his wife, flipping around weightlessly despite having perfectly photorealistic texturing. Despite this, the non-stop foleyed-in meows we hear all sound like drunk people in a bar were asked "do cat noises", and then panicked. I think that is not just that Sonnenfeld hated cats, but that he wanted to make every human being who ever came into Nine Lives also hate cats.

And if the eldritch, obscene horror of Mr. Fuzzypants leaning drunkenly on a garbage can or maliciously grinning as he prepares to piss in his ex-wife's (Cheryl Hines, accidentally giving a performance that invests her character with inner life) handbag wasn't enough to torpedo Nine Lives, then there's every other fucking thing about it. Not the score, by Evgueni & Sacha Galperine. I actually pretty much liked that. It has a sort of indie rock/funk thing going on. But every other fucking thing, including a script by five credited writers that proudly requires Christopher Walken to say say "poopy boxes" instead of "litter pans", and a scene where the Leiber/Stoller R&B standard "Three Cool Cats" is trotted out to score a scene where Mr. Fuzzypants and Rebecca play with each other, completely ignoring the way that the lyrics which are clearly presented with no expurgation offer the unavoidable implication that Tom wishes to seduce his 11-year-old daughter. I beg your pardon, I misspoke. That scene happens twice.

The film can't even get basic visual representation right: the film is perilously color-corrected to make everything look cheery and completely artificial, so bright and tacky that red dresses appear to glow with nuclear fury, and human flesh itself appears to have transmuted into latex, or vinyl, or something equally far removed from organic chemistry - Spacey is almost neon bronze in his handful of scenes as a person, and I will not willingly speak of the vaseline terrors that make of the expressions of the board members. Outside of a few unexpectedly sharp line deliveries by Spacey right at the start, there's not a solitary moment that isn't both visually grotesque and narratively inept, and only the beautiful live-action cats playing Mr. Fuzzypants when he isn't some kind of fucking mutant ninja make Nine Lives anything resembling a pleasurable moviegoing experience.