Clinton Moisey (Fran Kranz) is something of a simpleton. He lives at home with his mother (Blythe Danner) where he operates a daily yard sale table selling toys, comic books and self-made action figures. His attempt at making something of himself – a corner comic shop with zero clientele – closed after six months, and while anyone could see the problem was his lack of motivation Clinton sees it a bit differently. It was a man named Ford (Greg Kinnear) who killed his shop by opening a megastore nearby. Sure the megastore doesn’t sell comics, but that’s not really the point as far as Clinton is concerned.
He awakes one morning after drowning his sorrows with a marathon session of Who’s the Boss? episodes to find his beloved cat Mouser dead in the street. This was no accident though as a crossbow bolt had been shot through the cat’s heart. No one, including the local sheriff (J.K. Simmons), seem to be taking the murder as seriously as he is, so he sets off on his own to find the killer. The problem of course, is that he’s something of a simpleton.
Murder of a Cat is a comedy first and murder mystery second-ish, but what it lacks in the latter it makes up for with the former.
Clinton’s investigation leads to the discovery that his precious Mouser was stepping out and two-timing him for love and affection with another owner named Greta (Nikki Reed). Of course she knew the cat as Horatio, but while she’s even more visibly distraught over the cat’s death she seems far less interested in pursuing the truth behind its demise. Add in a mysterious Asian stock boy (Leonardo Nam) and, well, no, just the mysterious Asian stock boy, and Clinton has a small pool of suspects to suspect.
And suspect he does. He basically follows the Castle playbook and identifies the killer with certainty only to be proven wrong before moving on to identify a different killer with certainty only to be proven wrong before moving on… you get the point. The script (by New Girl staff writers Christian Magalhaes and Robert Snow) ultimately isn’t all that interested in the mystery at hand, and it’s evident in everything from the first clues to the eventual, underwhelming denouement.
But the mystery angle is never really the point of the film. It’s like a slighter take on Jake Kasdan’s underrated Zero Effect where the humor is given precedent over the intricacies of plot and character development, and that’s not a knock on either film. They’re not broadly comedic mysteries like Steve Martin’s Pink Panther films or the upcoming Mortdecai and instead keep the story and events simple and grounded.
It’s a funny enough script, but it’s Kranz’s take on the lead role that elevates the film with fantastic comic delivery and an increasing seriousness unmatched by the film itself or anyone else in it. Mouser’s death is a non-starter for everyone else, but for him this is a deadly serious affair. He’s not quite as good at conveying Clinton’s sadness over the loss of his cat (anyone who’s seen him in Much Ado About Nothing knows that’s not true), but luckily that brief moment of intended sincerity is over with fairly quick. Reed is best known as a supporting player in the Twilight franchise, but she brings a nice Amanda Peet-like charm to the film that will hopefully grace more movies in the near future.
Murder of a Cat never pretends to be anything more than it is – a small, character-driven comedy about a defeated man-child in need of a reason to truly live again. With laughs. It’s smart enough – I’m particularly fond of the Body Double poster hanging in Clinton’s room giving a small wink to the Mouser/Horatio predicament – and works well as a minor homage to the lighter side of private eye films, and while it may not have you laughing aloud all that much it’ll most likely leave you smiling.
The Upside: Funny and sweet way to pass the time
The Downside: Script not very interested in the non-comedic elements
On the Side: Director Gillian Greene is married to Sam Raimi.