The movie is Garfield and so is the problem.
For what 20th Century Fox took on when it broached the idea of bringing this cartoon cat to the big screen is a character that plays best in short, iconoclastic thought bubbles. But what the filmmakers ask us to root for is a hero that is self-centered, lazy and boring. And with that as the lead, the movie lays there like an icky CGI furball.
Garfield is of course based on the comic strip character created by Jim Davis. Garfield was born in the '70s, gained popularity as a newspaper phenom and starred in his own animated TV series. But he is best known perhaps as that thing stuck to the rear window of the car ahead of you. It is a car, dare I say, driven by some kind of nerd, for that has always made up the Garfield fan base as far as I can tell. Someone has to go to the Ice Capades, someone has to buy Cher's albums and someone has to be a Garfield fan, but these are circles, sadly, in which I do not travel. Yes, Garfield likes lasagna and hates Mondays and has the attitude and bored voice of Morris, the finicky cat star of all those Nine Lives commercials, but is that funny? I guess. Davis himself is embodied as Garfield's owner "Jon" who wears Dockers and stays home a lot. But outside of him, Garfield has no friends other than Odie, a hyperactive dog he hates.
So you can see why we rushed right out and made a movie based on this.
I do not envy the task filmmakers faced here but I completely understand the lure of trying. We're running out of worldwide cartoon franchises faster that $35/barrel crude. Garfield is known all over the globe and I'm sure that his likeness is plastered from here to Tienemen Square, so the business model make sense. In lesser-developed parts of the world this may work but in the theater packed with kids where I saw Garfield the reaction was sleepy as a cat in the sun.
The story, such as it is, backs us up to the point where it's just Garfield and Jon (played by Breckin Meyer) and without his comic strip foil dog. Prompted by the love of his life, a vet (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Jon takes on the task of adopting Odie. The sibling rivalry between Odie and his cat pal Garfield leads to Odie falling into the hands of Stephen Tobolowsky as a local TV host who needs a sidekick. But the plot of this fairly basic saga rolls out so slowly, and is hampered so badly by our inability to want anything good to happen for the aforementioned orange feline, that whether Odie survives or not is moot. And even the wonders of CGI do not dazzle us.
And then there is Bill Murray.
Going into this, I had one hope: that Bill Murray could add zip to his voicing of Garfield. With an unlikable character like this, with a slow rolling, lazy lump as the star, the mumbled asides better be gold. They better be written by Paul Rudnick. Or hopefully improved by someone like Bill Murray. Well, strike two. Murray is okay as Garfield. He has one or two moments where he seemed to have propped up the banter with some real wit. But not enough. The lamest moment is when Murray as Garfield sings "I'm In A New Dog State of Mind" a take-off on Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind." You can see studio execs lighting up in the development meeting about such a prospect. But it is instead a low point for both the movie and Murray's career. Booooo!!
Of the rest of the cast only Jennifer Love Hewitt deserves mention. She's a chipper little actress, Hewitt. And maybe that's the problem. If only someone in the film would have an edge to them, maybe it would work, but everyone seems to have just gone along for the ride.
Garfield is suitable for children but will not wow them. It does no harm to anyone. But it does not do what other successful TV series-into-movies like The Brady Bunch do -- admit its blandness and try to rise above it. It's flat. It's two-dimensional. It's good only in one-panel bursts.
As a movie, Garfield makes a great comic strip.
Garfield: The Movie is out June 10, 2004.