The title goes right to the point, as does this movie shown at Tribeca last week, which deals with a nerdy oddball named Clinton (played brilliantly by Fran Kranz), who discovers that his cat has been killed. In attempting to solve the murder of his furry and only friend Clinton unwittingly stumbles onto a series of events which lead him deeper into chaos, until his own life is at stake. He teams up with fellow cat lover Greta, played by Nikki Reed, his mother Edie (Blythe Danner) and her newfound lover Sheriff Hoyle, portrayed by who may be the greatest comedic character actor working today, J.K. Simmons.
They all converge on a swarmy local businessman named Ford (the always pleasant Greg Kinnear) and his stable of weird employees.
What’s great about the script (written by Christian Magalhaes and Robert Snow) is that it avoids the obvious revenge-of-the-nerd cliché and keeps the humor focused more on character than situation. The characters are relatable and the humor is kept intelligent instead of broad and the dialogue sharp instead of predictable. This allows for an effective mixing of genres, like comedy, romance and film noir.
Bringing it all together convincingly is director Gillian Greene (the better half of director Sam Raimi) making both her Tribeca and feature film debut. She manages to balance the laughs with just the right amount of tension which prevents the film from meandering into what could have been a weak drama or a silly comedy. Instead, “Murder of a Cat” plays out as a smart and humorous mystery with strong performances by all.
Speaking of which, for my money Kranz is a comedic actor worthy of the same attention as any SNL alum and Nikki Reed has an earthy quality that can bring life to many comedic characters, if given the chance.
Note to Sam Raimi: if your wife keeps directing films like “Murder of a Cat”, you may soon be known as “Mr. Gillian Greene.”