Fat cat Garfield has gone to the dogs in his big-screen debut.
"Garfield: The Movie" elicits laughs about as infrequently as a hairless Sphinx kitten sheds fur. The movie's vocal coup - landing Bill Murray as mouthpiece for droll Garfield, the lazy hero of Jim Davis' comic strip - falls flat amid the banal lines he's given to mew.
And the curious decision to make Garfield a computer-generated cartoon figure amid live-action cats and dogs - while not quite the distraction it could have been - still is bothersome enough to yank viewers out of the story now and then.
That is, yank them out of what little story the filmmakers dredge up. Director Pete Hewitt ("Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," "The Borrowers") is given little to work with in the screenplay by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, the writing team that contributed to "Toy Story" but also came up with last year's idiotic "Cheaper By the Dozen."
The movie's opening sequences are devoted to a stiff, tedious setup of Garfield's realm as center of his own little universe. The pampered precious of owner and "primary caregiver" Jon (Breckin Meyer at his blandest), Garfield wallows away his days as lord of the local cats and scourge of a neighbor's big, dumb, chained-up dog.
Garfield never leaves the immediate environs, and his biggest problems are how to swipe milk from a neighbor's porch and score a meal of his favorite dish, lasagna.
The fur flies for the corpulent cat when Jon, smitten with his veterinarian (Jennifer Love Hewitt, going toe-to-toe with Meyer for dullness), agrees to adopt a rambunctious, dopey dog named Odie.
As with the other animals, the filmmakers opt for a real dog as Odie. But since Odie is so well-recognized as a comic-strip caricature, it might have been wiser to insert a computer-animated Odie alongside Garfield.
The movie plays out predictably as the cat lands in the doghouse with Jon, who now finds Odie the cat's meow. Through Garfield's machinations, Odie ends up in the clutches of a cruel TV pet-show host (Stephen Tobolowsky).
So Garfield, in contrast with decades of his comic strips, goes on a guilt trip, setting out on a rescue mission to bring Odie home.
The structure of the comic strips is often maintained, with Garfield handling much of the dialogue as one-sided monologues. Too bad he's given virtually nothing funny or interesting to say.
"Garfield: The Movie" hits its low point as Murray caterwauls an awful ditty, "New Dog State of Mind," to the tune of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." The many zeroes in his paycheck for some easy voice work must have been all that sustained Murray while crooning the insipid lyrics.
Young children may get a few laughs out of the movie's many pratfalls, but even the slapstick of "Garfield" runs thin compared to a decent Looney Tunes cartoon.
The filmmakers seemed content to toss out any old stray cat of a movie with the "Garfield" brand name, figuring fans would show up.
They may be right, but some viewers may not be such cat lovers when they leave.
"Garfield: The Movie," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for brief mild language. Running time: 80 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
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