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Garfield: The Movie

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/05 16:05:39

"Unfunny and annoying... just like the comic strip."
1 stars (Sucks)

There are a good twenty-some reasons to hate “Garfield,” the live action comedy based on the classic comic strip. But the only reason you really need is that it’s just not any good. It’s a lazy formula piece without any real workable jokes or even much of a useable story. It’s harmless, but it’s an annoying harmless.

Problem number one is that the screenplay, by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, seems to come note for note straight out of some movies-for-kids scripting handbook. The plot is this: Garfield meets Odie, Garfield gets jealous of Odie, Odie gets lost, Odie gets kidnapped by Villain, Garfield leaves to rescue Odie from Villain. It’s as if the script was picked from a Use the Most Clichés contest, and this one came in third but got picked because the first two were too smart. (Heck, one scene, in which Garfield and a mouse friend crosses the street, is a direct steal from “Toy Story 2,” only they forgot to steal the humor and charm.)

It’s not as though I was expecting massive strokes of original brilliance here (this is, after all, based on a comic strip that has reused the same five punchlines over and over for the past few decades, sort of a three-panel Marmaduke). But there’s an unlikable absence of crispness to the material. The jokes are as lame and tired as the ones cartoonist Jim Davis has been giving us for years, only they sound even more groan-worthy once we hear them out loud. (“I think I’m going to blow Cat Chow chunks” is the screenplay’s idea of a good one-liner. Here’s another: a pun-happy rat says “Keep it squeal!” Yawn.)

As for Garfield, the CGI is fairly convincing... until the cat has to interact with anything or anyone. Then it’s as hokey as they get. Sure, the cat himself looks pretty good, and the decision to make Garfield the only CG character in the film is understandable (helps create a sense of realism while also making him look closest to his comic strip form). I’ll even forgive the strange absence of a cat butt (which, as every pet owner knows, cats will put right there in your face, where you don’t want it), since it’s kinda like the Hulk having mysteriously stretchy boxer shorts.

But every time somebody talks to him, or holds him, or looks at him, it’s distractingly obvious that the cat just ain’t there. Maybe little kids won’t mind. Sure bugged the crap out of me, though.

Another problem with the movie: those pesky human actors. Breckin Meyer’s Jon (who’s reinvented as a lovable schlub instead of the complete loser he is in the funnies) is a too-generic family movie character, and his romantic subplot involving Jennifer Love Hewitt is a royal snooze. With all their time wasted reacting to CGI characters or animal actors, there’s nothing interesting for them to do. They’re not characters, they’re filler. (To see a great performance against both an animal and CG cast for comparison, check out James Cromwell in “Babe.”)

The only human cast member who gets to do anything of interest is the brilliant Stephen Tobolowsky, hamming it up as a villainous talk show host. His character is standard kiddie movie bad guy crap, but Tobolowsky knows it and has some light fun with the part anyway. Not that it helps too much, though, as he’s reduced to tiny scenes of unnecessary cruelty. The movie finds way too much humor in disturbing shock collar gags. Is electrocuting people really that funny?

As for Bill Murray, who supplies the voice of the title character, well, it’s inspired casting, sure, but you can tell Murray’s bored with the part. There’s just no life to the performance, and he even seems uncomfortable at times having to say the asinine things he’s asked to say. We get from Murray the classic mellowness of Garfield, but there’s no energy in the scenes that require it. (His only lively moment is when Garfield sings “I Feel Good” at the movie’s end. Lively, sure, but as irritating as they get, too. I mean, “I Feel Good?” Come on, people.)

The actor’s his reluctance to the role spills over to real life: in a recent appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” Murray never plugged the film at all, and when Dave closed the interview as he always does by mentioning that the film opens in theaters on Friday, you could see Murray roll his eyes, look a bit embarrassed, and refused to discuss it. When you’re getting that kind of reaction from the movie’s top star, you know you’ve got a problem.

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