“See, I’m watching TV. I do have balance in my life.”
You have to be an animal lover, if not an actual pet owner, in order to fully appreciate the charms of The Nine Lives of Christmas. As expected from the title, a familiarity with cats in particular will serve you well.
Marilee (Kimberly Sustad, A Bride for Christmas) has a plan for her life. once she finishes veterinary school she’ll make time to finally date and settle down, but for now she’s content with juggling school, working at a pet supply store, and hiding her beloved cat Queenie from her no-pets-allowed landlady. Meanwhile, Zachary (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns) is living the dream of single men everywhere: he dates models and other beautiful women, telling them all he doesn’t believe in getting married. In terms of family, he comes from a broken home. But he’s found his sense of family from his fellow firefighters. Nothing is missing from his life. At least that’s what he thinks until he rescues a cat named Ambrose from an overly playful dog. The grateful feline adopts him as his new owner, though Zachary is determined to try and find him a new home for Christmas.
Marilee and Zachary have crossed paths before, but it’s not until Ambrose enters Zachary’s life that the two really begin interacting. As Zachary warms up to the idea of making Ambrose a permanent part of his home, he finds himself needing help understanding cats, and that’s where Marilee steps in.
I will readily cop to the film’s flaws. There are some coincidental meetings, improbable contrivances and other types of romantic comedy tropes sprinkled throughout. For example, when Marilee’s sister pesters her about not having a boyfriend, threatening to set her up on a blind date, Marilee panics and says she’s dating Zachary. Only at this point in the movie she doesn’t know his name so she refers to him as “brown eyes,” insisting it’s her cute nickname for him. But when her sister presses for what his nickname is for Marilee she sputters and pauses in a way that only comes across as not suspicious if you are living in a romantic comedy.
The Nine Lives of Christmas works for me for three reasons. Number one is Kimberly Sustad. Marilee’s character is kind of a dork but she couldn’t be more loveable. Sustad plays her quite well, infusing her actions and reactions with an appealing self-effacing charm. Number two is Brandon Routh. Often criticized for his portrayal of a certain Kryptonian we all know and love, he’s gotten a bit of a an unfair rap. Here he’s allowed to manage the character of Zachary with an easy humor that never feels forced. Finally, as with all romantic comedies which work, it comes down to chemistry, and Routh and Sustad have it. Though their interactions tend to be brief, they pack a lot of punch and don’t feel faked.
I do have a slight issue when it comes to the technical specs. Not in terms of the 1.78:1 aspect ratio — that works fine — however the video transfer suffers from a specific glitch. When there is plaid on the screen, depending on the camera angle it becomes a bit distorted. It’s really weird, but I have seen this same issue pop up on other discs before. As for the audio track, there are no issues, as the Dolby 5.1 goes above and beyond what’s expected. There are no special features.
It won’t take you nine lives to discover the charm of The Nine Lives of Christmas. However, those without an affinity for animals, cats in particular, will want to stay away.