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Too bad Garfield couldn't just stay on the comics page

June 11, 2004|Manohla Dargis | Times Staff Writer

Bill Murray completists, tots under 5 and their unfortunate chaperons are the only ones who need experience the soulless excuse for an entertainment called "Garfield: The Movie." Based on Jim Davis' comic strip about a "happy, fat lazy cat," this new feature combines barely live action with a digitally rendered orange tabby voiced by Murray, too many product placements and slithering rats, a jive-talking mouse and a prancing dog that a 3-year-old assured me was "so funny!"

The dog is a dachshund-cairn terrier mix called Tyler and by far the best thing about "Garfield." As Odie, the cartoon cat's rival, Tyler spends a lot of screen time hopping on his hind legs in feigned dance. It's a neat trick and, as that 3-year-old enthused, sometimes funny, although it also tends to inspire thoughts about jumping up, albeit to a different end. Tyler helps pass the time, as does Murray's sporadic crooning, which is good, since time passes slowly during "Garfield's" 80 (including credits) minutes. On the plus side, the absence of a real story (think man gets dog, cat gets angry), decent direction and passable acting gives you time to think about the errands you need to run and whether Murray sold his soul or just made this movie to please his kids.

It's unlikely he did it to please admirers of "Lost in Translation." Now a cinematic hepcat, Murray has a talent for conveying sublime ironic detachment even while he's also breaking your heart, a gift that's made him a hot commodity with cool kids such as Wes Anderson ("Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums") and Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation"). It's a puzzle what the actor is doing in a deeply un-ironic production such as "Garfield" (um, not really), although he does sound as if he's having fun while warbling a monumentally stupid take on Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" called "New Dog State of Mind." If you like that, you may also like the cat's jabs at Odie ("Take a worm pill") and the sight of co-star Jennifer Love Hewitt trying to feel the moment with Garfield and Odie's companion, Jon (Breckin Meyer).

There's little doubt that turning a three-panel comic strip into a feature-length movie, especially a strip in which the main attraction expresses apercus such as "happiness is a warm television," was tough going. Outside of showing us Garfield's impressively realistic fur in close-up, there isn't much for director Pete Hewitt to do, particularly given Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow's wan screenplay. (They also wrote "Toy Story.") According to the press notes, Cohen is a "patron of the arts who counts painter Eric Fischl" one of his "closest friends," while Sokolow is the product of a "counterculture upbringing" who deems the late Abbie Hoffman as among his "family friends and personal influences." Suffice it to say that these delectable biographical items were by far the funniest thing about the movie -- author, author!


'Garfield: The Movie'

MPAA rating: PG, for brief mild language

Times guidelines: Brief human violence against animals and other humans, lots of rats, some language

Breckin Meyer...Jon

Jennifer Love Hewitt...Liz

Stephen Tobolowsky...Happy Chapman

Bill Murray...The voice of Garfield

Evan Arnold...Wendell

Twentieth Century Fox presents a Davis Entertainment Co. production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Pete Hewitt. Producer John Davis. Writers Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow. Based on the comic strip "Garfield," created by Jim Davis. Director of photography Dean Cundey. Production designer Alexander Hammond. Film editor Peter Berger. Costume designer Marie France. Animation supervisor Chris Bailey. Music Christophe Beck. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

In general release.

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