I should have instantly known what I was in for when the Cannon films logo appeared on screen, a symbol synonymous with an impressive output of low budget cinematic crap that seemed to dominate theaters and cable TV in the eighties. Sure, they put out the occasional BARFLY (1987) or 52 PICK-UP (1986), but those films were overshadowed by a seemingly endless stream of crap like the four DEATH WISH sequels — including DEATH WISH 3 (1985) , one of the most entertaining movies ever made, terrible or not — , cookie cutter Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme actioners, OVER THE TOP (1987), which has the distinction of maybe being the worst film Sylvester Stallone was ever in (and that's saying something), feeble ninja flicks, unwatchable hip-hop cash-ins like the infamous BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984) and RAPPIN' (1985), and the stunningly awful SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987).
During this deluge of garbage, Cannon also released a slew of fairy tale-based pictures designed to make a few bucks during weekend kiddie matinees before being relegated to showings on cable and home video. Among these is the 1988 musical version of PUSS IN BOOTS starring, of all people, Christopher Walken (!!!). A strange choice for the role of an anthropomorphic domesticated feline, but that bit of casting was the sole thing that went right in this jaw-droppingly misbegotten effort that amounts to ninety-plus minutes of a cast featuring only two people you've ever heard of — Walken, and Jason Connery, Sir Sean's marginally talented spawn — and an assortment of interchangeable ciphers in period costume.
It's a pretty straightforward adaptation of Charles Perrault's classic tale of a cat who seriously butches up once he gets some righteous footwear and effects major changes in the life of his pretty much useless owner. Puss — who amusingly bitches out his owner for his lack of imagination when giving him a name — manages to create a new identity for his master, that of the uber-rich and landed "Marquis of Carabas," and in the process wins the hapless lad an immense castle, vast material wealth, and the hand of a pretty cool princess (Carmela Marner), all of which is seamlessly accomplished when Puss devours the local shape-shifting ogre once said ogre has transformed into a mouse.
You know the story from childhood, so there are no surprises here other than Walken as Puss and Marner's princess, a revisionist take on the whole nauseating princess thing who refuses to be the silent and vacant accessory she was bred to be. She somehow manages to spin gold out of a "nothing" part, but she's on screen for too little time to be much more than a welcome diversion from the other bland figures, and as such that's a damned waste.
Christopher Walken as Puss is another story altogether, and he almost makes up for the wretchedness of the script. His song and dance chops are legendary and while given little room to showcase them here, in what's supposed to be a musical no less, Walken is by far the liveliest thing in the film, coming off as exactly what a male cat would be like if he stood up and spoke what was on his mind. Wisely eschewing any sort of kitty-style prosthetics — although I might have had him wear ears and a tail — Walken's Puss (boy, does that sound wrong) is basically a normal-looking guy with a cheesy porn star mustache (no, he is not nude) over whose face is occasionally flashed an image of his pre-boots house cat form so we don't forget what he really is (an effect that wouldn't have passed muster even in a Sid & Marty Kroft series), and after about ten minutes you'll get over the insanity of Walken in the role, settle in, and enjoy watching him work. The cat's cockiness and smarts are a lot of fun, bolstered by Walken's signature Queens accent and delivery, and Puss even displays a genuine love of his owner, a touching bit of gratitude over his owner's father rescuing him from being drowned while still a kitten, so he's simply impossible not to like and makes the film worth sitting through at least once.
But other than Puss and the princess, the film offers absolutely bubkes to the viewer. The script is a yawner that would have failed to enthrall all but the youngest of toddlers, somehow draining Perrault's story of much of its wonder and adventure, and the fact that it's a musical only points up how bad the proceedings are. I don't know about you, but I've seen a hell of a lot of musicals, ranging from the excellent (WEST SIDE STORY) to the execrable (AT LONG LAST LOVE), so I feel perfectly qualified to state that PUSS IN BOOTS may just be the single worst musical committed to film since some of the cheapjack productions by small companies during the Depression. The songs are truly terrible and lacking in every element that makes a song good, such as a decent tune, quality lyrics, and any sort of memorable characteristics; Walken does the best he can with what he's been handed, but even his efforts are thwarted by lyrics that come off as if written by a person who was new to both the English language and musical theater composition. The two exceptions to this are the song in which Puss conveys his joy at getting boots and gaining the ability to speak for no apparent reason, and a song he sings to his sleeping master, a sweet tune that perfectly conveys his feelings and intent to better his human's life, but those moments still fall flat thanks to the songwriter's apparent disinterest in his own material.
Bottom line: PUSS IN BOOTS basically sucks, but it's a must-see for Walken boosters who simply cannot live without seeing the King of New York swanning about in a children's musical, playing a character used to better effect in the equally bad SHREK sequels. I'm glad I have it in my collection, but I won't be checking it out again any time soon. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!