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By Clint Morris | April 12, 2002

It echoes down the passageway, piercing your drums at every strained output and despite its misleadingly endearing carrier, the screech is relentless and inexorable. Not unlike the new Peter Bogdanovich film, “The Cat’s Meow,” which like its ostensible expression, is cute and fluffy, but quite annoying after an elongated visit.
If there’s one interesting aspect of “The Cat’s Meow” it’s finding out why the heck Kirsten Dunst was attracted to it? After a series of roles that turned heads, and an even higher profile role in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man,” what would entice the blonde starlet to frock up for this rather obscure noir piece? Unfortunately, even after sitting through the film’s I still don’t have an answer. Yet, as bewildered, as I am to see Dunst’s attraction to the film, there’s no doubting Dunst is typically sensational in it.
Like a dim mesh of “The Love Boat,” “Radioland Murders” and “Citizen Kane,” Writer Steven Peros’s “Cats Meow” is a persnickety second take on the life of Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Cat’s Meow’s plot is of a weekend outing on Hearst’s yacht, Oneida, in 1924; the passenger list consisted of Hollywood’s creme de la creme, one of which did not survive. Whether silent-film mogul Thomas Ince died of natural causes or whether he was killed during the trip has never been nailed down definitely, and therein lies Peros’ permit to intricate. He advances the commonly held theories that Ince was unintentionally caught in the crossfire between Hearst (Herrmann) and Charles Chaplin (Izzard) over the affections of Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Dunst), and that Hearst’s employee Louella O. Parsons (Tilly) witnessed the kill and used it to snag a never ending run as Hearst’s crown gossip columnist.
Factual turned Fictional accounts do get better than “Cats Meow.” Recent examples that come to mind include “Gods and Monsters,” “Ed Wood” from Tim Burton and the significantly more comprehensive “Shadow of the Vampire.” It’s clear Bogdanovich – his first film in 9 years – knows his stuff, but perhaps a little too much. Most of “Cat’s” is bogged down in a litter-tray of airy-fairy backdrop detail and costume expense account substantiation, forgetting an audience is supposed to be entertained at the same time.
Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin is the film’s first gaffe. Maybe Izzard should have stepped into the role of Hearst, here played by Herrmann. Having said that though it’s the cast of the film that keeps it from sinking. Dunst brings to the role of Marion-in-the-middle a pinch of sincerity and candor; Herrman’s a ball – for the most part – as Hearst, and Cary Elwes immersing as a restless pioneer.
“The Cat’s Meow” is a film that looks great. But unfortunately, like one too many films of late, it spends too much time in the art department and not enough time in the script headquarters.

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