P.S. Your Cat Is Dead

TLA Releasing, 2003

Director: Steve Guttenberg

Screenplay: Jeff Korn, Michael Bell and Steve Guttenberg

Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Lombardo Boyar, Cynthia Watros, A.J. Benza and Shirley Knight
Rated R, 92 minutes

It's Not Just The Cat That's Dead
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, October, 2003


There has always been something appealing about the goofball persona of actor Steve Guttenberg, despite his appearances in some really terrible movies. (Remember Can't Stop The Music?) For a time he dropped out of sight and, ready for an image change, Guttenberg has made an unusual choice for his comeback film: James Kirkwood's 1975 gay-themed play, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. With much enthusiasm, Guttenberg produced, directed, co-wrote the screenplay, and starred in the film.

In some ways this was a brave move, but unfortunately his film version is a catastrophe. The original material isn't at fault. P.S. Your Cat Is Dead was once a bold play even if its initial shock value might seem almost quaint today. Still, it's a nicely written comedic drama and it would have provided Guttenberg with a great opportunity to shed his image from the Police Academy flicks.

Alas, the film is a truly un-funny, and over-acted, comedy with a mean streak. Guttenberg stars as Jimmy Zoole, an out-of-work actor. It's New Year's Eve; his one man Hamlet (with sock puppets) flopped, his girl friend has dumped him and his beloved cat has died. His apartment has twice been burglarized and the sole handwritten copy of his novel-in-progress was stolen. The burglar returns and Jimmy, at the lowest ebb of his life, beats him senseless and then hogties him to his kitchen sink. Jimmy has snapped and it's payback time. Now he has a new date for the New Year, one that he can inflict all his pent-up agression on.

The twist in Kirkwood's play is that the burglar is gay and makes Jimmy question his own sexuality before the night ends. This part of the story, which undoubtedly attracted Buffalo United Artists to produce it onstage locally last year, is given short shrift in the film. What we are left with for 92 minutes is Guttenberg's insufferable mugging through a part that is way beyond his abilities. Perhaps he wears too many hats in the production. Guttenberg is not Orson Welles and his movie is definitely not Citizen Kane.

What his movie lacks is subtlety. Even a farce has to stop and take a deep breath now and then. Guttenberg has a pretty good eye for the cinematic image, and he keeps the film moving at a good clip, but he really should have let another director direct him. Less is more, Steve, less is more.

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead isn't without its charms. There is a great scene where the ex returns, (with her new beau in tow), and Jimmy and the captive suddenly have a rapport and pretend that everything is normal and this sort of thing happens all the time. Lombardo Boyar is very good as the burglar and his performance helped make watching the film less of an endurance test. His revelations about dancing in gay bars, a failed marriage and a child he isn't allowed to see, made his character far more sympathetic than the others. Guttenberg's Jimmy, on the other hand, is such a whining loser that is impossible to feel any pity for him.

Part of the problem is that there is a backstory that is never explored. Jimmy is also mourning the loss of his best friend, and a picture of the two, arms around each other's shoulders, hangs on the wall. When the burglar suggests that Jimmy might be in the closet, you would think that the screenwriters would have brought up his deceased friend and let him question what his true feelings for him were.

Instead, a scene that does not appear in the play is added where Jimmy is almost gang-raped (don't ask). Was this an attempt to "update" the play? There is nothing funny about rape and the scene is played for laughs. It's as if Quentin Tarantino was brought in for a last minute rewrite. The film seems ill-conceived almost from beginning to end. Take, for example, Jimmy's apartment. For a man who is always broke and needs to beg a rich relative for money, how could he ever afford such a large and spectacularly furnished loft?

Yes, the cat is dead but so is this movie. It's a shame because I really looked forward to seeing it. The DVD also includes what has to be the worst director and cast commentary that I have ever heard. Listening to the cast whoop it up and laugh at everything onscreen - including the attempted rape - made me lose all respect for everyone involved in the production.

For trivia buffs: James Kirkwood, the playwright, also wrote A Chorus Line. The play's world premiere, with Keir Dullea in the lead role, was right here in Buffalo at Studio Arena. And gay actor Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause) was set to play the burglar in an LA production when he was tragically murdered.