P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD! (2002)
Running Time: 92 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Steven Guttenberg
Distributor: TLA Releasing
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Lombardo Boyar, Cynthia Watros, Shirley Knight, Tom Wright, A.J. Benza, Paul Dillon, Kenneth Moskow
Who says there are no second acts in American lives? Not Steve Guttenberg. With an image defined by roles in cinematic cheese such as THREE MEN AND A BABY, DINER, and of course the entire POLICE ACADEMY metastasis, he’s unpredictably emerged as a first-time film director with an unlikely choice: P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD!, adapted from the novel/play by James Kirkwood.
While the nebbishy character he plays in it initially reads as an older, more embittered variation of his trademark screen persona – although somewhat camouflaged behind facial hair and spectacles, Guttenberg’s plangent nasal baritone is unmistakable – his actions in the black comedy are a departure from type. After surprising a bisexual thief who’s recurrently robbed his flat and knocking him out in a scuffle, rather than call the police he instead ties him up spread-eagle and face-down on his kitchen counter for the purpose of tormenting the intruder. He thinks he’s turned the tables, but is ironically forced by his captive to confront the latent homosexual impulses in his behavior.
There’s genuine humor in the script, and the farcical elements are ably set up and realized in the production, but some basic aspects of the plot itself which challenge credulity prevent the piece from being fully engaging. Though Kirkwood’s story predates Quentin Tarantino, the notion of a street-level criminal being clever and conversationally adept rings false, occurring far more often in movies than in real life. Even less believable is that the crook and his victim might form a bond of friendship through the ordeal; apparently Kirkwood originally made his protagonist gay also, a conception which would make the scenario far more resonant (particularly if the two principles had some sort of prior relationship), but was persuaded to change his identity to make the piece more accessible to 1972 audiences.
The gay angle would certainly cause little comment now, and indeed is a positive factor in the project’s distribution. It’s being put out theatrically and on video via TLA Releasing, a venture that represents a canny arrangement of vertical marketing for the Philadelphia-based TLA chain of video stores, which it’s an outgrowth of. While most of their titles, such as THE NIGHT LARRY KRAMER KISSED ME and THE EINSTEIN OF SEX, are gay-themed, even those that aren’t, including P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD! and the fine French import A MATTER OF TASTE, tend to swing both ways.
Guttenberg doesn’t, and after the film’s New York premiere at NYU’s Cantor Film Center and the after-party at Negril, he was set to join mates heading over to Thom, where they assured him there’d be a higher percentage of females than were at the screening. Still, Guttenberg was enthused about the opportunity to present something that defies the expectations of him; while conceding that “a bit of my career has been very predictable,” and “a part of my work has been very good, and a part has been crap” he maintains that the “job of an artist is to keep popping up in different holes.” With a history of acting gigs that have made Guttenberg “feel like I’ve worked at Bloomingdale’s for 27 years,” P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD! is a welcome departure.
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