Kirsten Dunst's 2002 venture is undoubtedly Spider-Man, but less than a month earlier, she had another, lesser known film called The Cat's Meow, a semi-ficticious murder drama-comedy about the mysterious circumstances surrounded the true death of Thomas H. Ince. Despite an all-star cast, The Cat's Meow is also less entertaining.
Though a murder investigation was never really carried out, The Cat's Meow bases itself on one of the rumors that arose following the influential filmmaker's death aboard the boat of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. The boat's passengers are made up of actors, filmmakers, and other prestigious people, including Charlie Chaplin, all of which are there to celebrate Ince's birthday. However, beneath the cheery atmosphere of booze, drugs and sex, there is a love triangle between Hearst (Edward Hermann), his beautiful young girlfriend Marion Davies (Dunst) and Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), which will eventually lead to Ince's (Cary Elwes) demise.
The Cat's Meow can generally be described as a drama, although it takes its jab at comedy. Considering the zany characters, it really should have tried to be funnier, because for the most part, it does not work as anything else. The time period lends itself to be comical, and since all of the characters are eccentric, the screenplay really should have done a better job of capitalizing with witty lines.
The main reason The Cat's Meow should have been funnier is that it otherwise has nothing very entertaining to offer. I was expecting a murder mystery, along the lines of Murder on the Orient Express or something similar, but with more comedy, but instead it is a very ordinary and stale comedy-drama with no mystery. The murder takes place near the end, so everything else is leading up to it, but in the meantime there had to be something to keep me interested. The screenplay is so concerned with creating miniature motives that it forgets that there is an audience sitting around wanting to see something entertaining.
The acting is decent enough. Kirsten Dunst continues to prove that she is going to outlast teenhood quite easily; while there have been more popular teen stars, Dunst is going to last until old age finally gets her. She's a good actress and for the most part chooses pretty good material. The Cat's Meow might be an exception, but she definitely could have chosen worse. Cary Elwes is always entertaining and likeable, even when he's a villain, and the other actors do adequate jobs as well.
The Cat's Meow is plagued by "Ordinary Syndrome." It isn't bad by itself but at the same time has nothing to offer; it isn't funny enough and focuses too much on the murder, which, really, should not have been the theme of the film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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