Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Amazingly, it has taken over twenty years for a live-action feature
film adaptation of the "Garfield" comic strip, by Jim Davis, to reach
fruition. Even more amazing is that, in those twenty-some yea rs,
a better and more original script couldn't have been written. "Garfield:
The Movie" is strictly innocuous fare that, unlike the recent and
wonderful "Shrek 2," rarely even attempts to break outside the targeted
kiddie demographic. The story and dialogue sorely lack creativity,
but the film is harmless—the sole reason why it is difficult to out-and-out
hate it. Still, in the year 2004, does anyone even care about "Garfield" anymore?
Garfield (voiced by Bill Murray, taking over for the late Lorenzo
Music) is a fat, lazy, television-loving, lasagna-obsessed orange
feline who happily lives with his owner, Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer).
His content life is suddenly upset, however, when Jon brings home
a dog named Odie and suddenly starts paying his new pet more attention
and care. In an attempt to steal back the limelight, Garfield locks
Odie outside the house while Jon sleeps. The next morning, Odie is
gone , so Garfield, realizing the error of his ways, breaks free from
his comfy barcolounger and sets out to rescue him from the clutches
of disgruntled animal television personality Happy Chapman (Stephen
Tobolowsky). Not far behind on the trail are Jon and his sweet veterinarian
gal pal, Liz Wilson (Jennifer Love Hewitt).
Directed by Pete Hewitt, whose biggest past claim to fame has been
"Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," "Garfield: The Movie" may only be
82 minutes long, but it feels much longer. Even at such a pat running
time, the terminally thin plot is stretched far beyond its limited
constraints. For a child of about 7 or 8, the movie will undoubtedly
entertain. Unlike the best of family films, however, it offers little
that will be of interest to older audiences, even those that were
once fans of the comic strip and cartoons. The most witty joke, and
one of the few that will go over the heads of the little ones, finds
Garfield sullenly singing the blues of Billy Joel's "Ne w York State
of Mind." In Garfield's world, it is retitled "New Dog State of Mind."
Otherwise, the vast majority of the comedy is of the broad physical
variety, with a lot of burps for good measure. Fortunately, and mercifully,
there isn't a fart in sight.
In concocting a plot for the premiere "Garfield" motion picture, couldn't
screenwriters Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (2003's "Cheaper by the
Dozen") have come up with something more inventive for Garfield to
do that go save the kidnapped Odie? And if they were having such a
difficult time formulating ideas, then even a full-length remake of
the classic "Garfield's Halloween Adventure" would have been more
visual and exciting than what is found in the finished product. As
for the "talking animals" conceit, it has become so overdone and cliched
in recent years (2001's "Cats & Dogs" or 2003' s "Good Boy!," anyone?)
that it now simply comes off as dull and desperate.
The newly computer-generated character of Garfield, the only animal
in the film to be created this way, sticks out like a sore thumb among
his live-action counterparts. While the animation is quite good, giving
his fur lots of texture and realism and his eyes a soul, less successful
is his interaction with the humans. In fact, when Jon or Liz are called
upon to hold him, the visual effects are downright clunky and embarrassing
in this technologically state-of-the-art day and age.
As Garfield, Bill Murray (2003's "Lost in Translation") sparks energy
to his sometimes acerbic dialogue. In the central live-action roles,
Breckin Meyer (2001's "Rat Race") and Jennifer Love Hewitt (2002's
"The Tuxedo") put on game faces even as they realize this is certainly
not the pinnacle of their careers. Perhaps it is the hardened adult
in me coming out, but Meyer and Hewitt were so charismatic as a couple
that my attention sparked up every time they appeared. The two of
them could easily star together in a romantic comedy and make it genuinely
affecting and charming. When the animals took center stage, which
was most of the time, my interest radically flagged.
At a time when quality family films like "Shrek 2" and "Harry Potter
and the Prisoner of Azkaban" are playing in theaters, "Garfield: The
Movie" seems even more tired and lazy—much like Garfield himself.
The film is bankrupt of imagination and will be nearly forgotten the
instant the viewer exits the theater. Neverthel ess, "Garfield: The
Movie" was clearly not made for anyone over the age of 10, and taken
on those accounts the end result could have been much worse. What
is so disheartening is how little effort seems to have been put into
Garfield's debut foray into feature films. The good-natured feline—and
original creator Jim Davis—deserved more respect than this.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman