Thursday, June 10, 2004

“Garfield: The Movie” will temporarily satisfy those in the under-10 age bracket not infatuated with a certain green ogre by appealing to their love of cute animals and slapstick humor.

However, adults familiar and unfamiliar with the cartoon-strip shenanigans of Jim Davis’ most curmudgeonly cat will walk away wondering if sitting through 86 minutes of mediocrity waiting to chuckle at a pair of creatures dancing to hip-hop truly pays off.

The film works hard to assemble all of the nuances that Mr. Davis has brought to the pompous, egocentric creature during his 26-year history. We quickly learn just how much the orange lump of fur loves lasagna, takes disproportionate advantage of his human counterpart and takes pride in doing as little as possible.

The film opens with a gastronomically overindulged Garfield being carted out for a visit to his veterinarian Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) by devoted Garfield owner Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer), who has had a crush on the pert and perky gal since the pair were in high school.

During one bold appointment, in which Garfield gets to perform an Elvis impression, Jon ends up with Odie, a cute dog that quickly moves in to crowd Garfield’s turf — gaining the privilege, for example, of sleeping next to his new master at night.

This development weighs heavily upon Garfield, who tricks the innocent Odie into a night out on the porch. Of course, the dopey pooch ends up chasing a pizza delivery man and eventually becomes the captive of a marginal television star in need of a new animal act to climb the morning-news-show ladder.

Can Garfield overcome some ravenous rats and the animal control police to redeem himself by rescuing Odie?

As Garfield, Bill Murray (in the first lead voice-over work of his career) combines the sarcasm of his “Stripes” persona with “Saturday Night Live’s” lovable lounge singer. He even manages to croon some James Brown and Billy Joel in true Murray fashion.

Fans of the cat gone fat will revel in finally seeing their pal in all his computer generated splendor, although they may wonder why Garfield is the only character to go the way of cinematic software.

Surely in the age of “Finding Nemo,” “Cats and Dogs” and “Shrek,” this film could — and possibly should — have been a computer-generated, animated spectacle rather than a mishmash of technologies.

Instead, adults will scratch their heads as an artificial Garfield struts around live action environments while his flesh, blood and fur counterparts valiantly perform to a handler waving liver snacks off-screen.

Non-Garfield aficionados may also wonder why all creatures are chatting away in that annoying “animal lip sync” that — even with the vocal help of Debra Messing, Alan Cumming, Brad Garrett and Jimmy Kimmel — does little to propel the story, while Odie utters only a wimper or occasional bark.

While on the topic of having little to say, Jennifer Love Hewitt as the pet doctor and Breckin Meyer as Jon both would perform admirably in an illustrated, cartoon-strip format.

Despite some amusing moments as cats and dogs and even mouse and rat learn to set aside their differences to save one of their own, “Garfield: The Movie” will be swept away as little more than cat litter during the summer blockbuster movie season.


TITLE: “Garfield: The Movie”

RATING: PG (Brief mild language)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Hewitt. Produced by John Davis. Screenplay by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, based on the cartoon strip by Jim Davis. Cinematography by Dean Cundey. Production design by Alec Hammond. Visual effects: Rhythm & Hues. Special effects director: Alan E. Lorimer. Music by Christophe Beck.

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes


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