Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 20 News List

A cat comes to life in Garfield

The comic strip `Garfield' has been made into a movie, with celebrity voiceovers and special effects

By A. O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

If this is the only newspaper you read, then a bit of explanation might be in order. Garfield is a cat who says funny things at his owner's expense, makes fun of a dog named Odie and eats a lot of lasagna. That's right, lasagna. A cat who eats lasagna! Isn't that the craziest thing you've ever heard?

Here's something even crazier: someone at 20th Century Fox has decided that Garfield, Jim Davis' long-running syndicated comic strip, tolerated by millions of newspaper readers around the world, should be adapted into a movie. Apparently, Hollywood has run through all the old, beloved television shows, all the television shows nobody really cared about and most of the theme park rides in Orlando, Florida, and has now decided to turn its synergistic attention to the funny pages. I have a feeling Garfield: The Movie is only the beginning. I'm bracing myself for Cathy, for Ziggy and, of course, for Marmaduke.

The guiding principle behind Garfield, directed by Pete Hewitt from a script by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, seems be that jokes that barely raise a chuckle when stretched across three pen-and-ink panels become gems of hilarity once they are outfitted with celebrity voices, soundtrack music (James Brown's I Feel Good -- how original!) and computer-generated special effects.

There are many problems with this theory, one of which is economic. In the paper the weary smile provoked by Garfield's sarcasm or Odie's idiocy will seem like a positive bargain. You've spent a little money on a paper, and you still have the crossword and the cartoons to see you through your morning coffee. Movies are another matter entirely, and you are likely to leave this one feeling as grouchy and put-upon as the title character.

Film Notes

Directed by: Pete Hewitt

Starring: Breckin Meyer (Jon), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Liz), Stephen Tobolowsky (Happy Chapman)

and Bill Murray (voice of Garfield)

Running time: 93 minutes

Taiwan Release: today


Then there is the matter of plot. Most humorous comic strips don't have them. The problem with Garfield: The Movie is that it does. Jon (Breckin Meyer), the hapless, dateless owner, now has a love interest, a kindly veterinarian named Liz, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt in a succession of uncomfortable suits. It is she who unleashes Odie on Garfield, who must overcome his laziness and egoism when Odie is kidnapped by an unscrupulous television personality named Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky). Garfield must grow, in other words. He must, like every prickly, selfish Hollywood hero, learn a valuable lesson.

Excuse me, but what cat has ever learned anything, valuable or not? The whole point of cats is that they are immune to training, moral instruction or any other kind of education. A little realism, please. That Garfield speaks in the supercilious, world-weary drawl of Bill Murray is some small consolation, as are a few of the animal tricks. Odie, for example, is played by a talented (and, mercifully, voiceless) mutt who is remarkably good at walking on his hind legs. Garfield himself has the rubbery, two-and-a-half-dimensional look common to computer-animated creatures, but he moves in a convincingly obese-feline manner. The movie may lack the insight and nuance of the comic strip, but at least it is short, and at least the studio didn't skimp on the lasagna.

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