James Kirkwood's 1972 cult novel P.S. Your Cat Is Dead has inspired tremendous loyalty over the years. How else to explain the repeated efforts to bring the offbeat romance to Broadway and the silver screen? Originally penned as a play, but never produced, P.S. found unexpected success as a novel, which renewed hopes of a Broadway run, but the show closed after two weeks. Now, after numerous failed attempts, the book has finally made it to the screen. In its present incarnation, however, it will be lucky to remain open even fourteen days.
The story centers around a sad sack named Jimmy Zoole (Steve Guttenberg, who also co-wrote, coproduced, and directed), a failed actor whose life is crumbling. His one-man show -- playing Hamlet opposite hand puppets -- closed after one night, his best friend recently died, his girlfriend Kate (Cynthia Watros) has left him, his beloved cat is sick and in the hospital, and the novel he was painstakingly writing in longhand was stolen when his apartment was robbed. Oh yes, he is also being evicted. And it's New Year's Eve.
Just when things couldn't seem to get worse, they do. Jimmy catches the burglar, red-handed, trying to rob him again. He bops the robber over the head and hog-ties him to the kitchen sink. When Eddie (Lombardo Boyer) wakes up, Jimmy starts to torment him. Even tied down, Eddie gives as good as he gets.
Die-hard fans of the novel may be willing to forgive the film's numerous weaknesses, but anybody not already committed to the book will find little to draw them to this movie. The play and novel's gay-themed undercurrent is not played up here, but Jimmy and Eddie's evolving friendship -- as well as the film's ending -- can certainly be read any way the viewer chooses. The homoerotic undertones may be what kept the play from being a success back in the early '70s, though they may also help explain why the book and play have remained so popular through the years.
Guttenberg, who starred in a string of hits during the '80s and early '90s (Diner, Cocoon, Three Men and a Baby) obviously has his heart in the right place, but as both actor and director he leaves a lot to be desired. He plays Jimmy with a perpetual furrowed brow and frown, hunched-over shoulders, and a week's growth of beard -- a perfect ringer for one of those woebegone painted clowns who stares out from black velvet backgrounds. Yes, Jimmy's life is in the toilet; a black cloud hovers over his head like a tropical depression. But Guttenberg's movements and expressions are so exaggerated, it's as if he were playing to an audience of young children.
Watros is more nuanced and the standout in the cast, although even she isn't immune to overly theatrical posture and movement. Boyar has to perform most of his scenes on his stomach, tied down on top of a free-standing sink and table unit -- not the most comfortable position for an individual. He proves effective enough as Eddie. If this were an amateur production, one could be kinder to all involved. But it's not; it's just amateurish. Guttenberg, who is making his feature directorial debut here, has a lot to learn about directing. He has no feel for staging action -- or even scenes, for that matter. It's as though he is shooting a play -- which, of course, is what he is doing, but it shouldn't look like one.
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