Garfield

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, Garfield is a fat, lazy, sarcastic, lasagna-loving cat with a bit of a cruel streak. He lives with a very single and very geeky Jon Arbuckle (to be played by Breckin Meyer). Jon’s only true friend is his cat and so he pampers him excessively, but things change when Jon takes Garfield for a checkup. Jon falls madly in love with the vet Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), although she barely notices his existence and tries to unload a stray dog, Odie, on him. Desperate to win her favor, he takes Odie, even though he really doesn’t want a dog.

Garfield is less than thrilled with his new housemate. Even worse, Odie charms the entire neighborhood and completely ignores Garfield’s attempts to push him away. One night Garfield manages to lock Odie out of the house, so the dog wanders the city, eventually being nabbed by a local celebrity looking to add a dog to his act. Garfield is blamed by everyone for Odie’s disappearance and eventually tries to track the dog down himself.

Garfield, a CGI creation in the film, is voiced by Bill Murray, a great vocal talent that makes for an intriguing choice here. Interestingly, there is a sense of coming full circle with this casting, as the voice actor (Lorenzo Music) who did work on the “Garfield” animated series and other cartons also did the voice of Peter Vankman in the “Ghostbusters” animated series. Also lending their voices to the project are Alan Cumming (“X2”) and Jimmy
Kimmel.

On the plus side, the script features all the major characters that inhabit the comic strip. There is Arlene (Debra Messing), Garfield’s love interest; Nermal (David Eigenberg), the dimwitted but overly cute kitten; Luca (Brad Garrett), the angry neighbor dog; and Louis (Nick Cannon) the mouse Garfield never wants to eat.

But my chief concern is that there is no tension to be found here at all, this is run-of-the-mill heavily predictable stuff. I won’t blame the screenwriters (whose credits include being among the co-writers of “Toy Story”) too much for this though, despite the problem of the tepid plot being theirs alone. I lay the blame for the stale jokes at the feet of Jim Davis. I was a big fan of “Garfield” when it was still a new comic strip, back when he barely resembled the character of today. But over time I drifted away from the comic because it had lost its edge. When new it was a fun read because Davis had a way of turning typical cat traits into a distinct personality that made it all seem deliberate and somewhat condescending to people. I suppose if you read the strip now without having read it before, you can still find that to be somewhat of the case. But, for the long time reader, it seemed as if Davis had gone on autopilot, the strip was just the same jokes recycled incessantly. This script is a very faithful adaptation of the comic strip. But that means it picks up all the tired jokes and half-hearted attitude. I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations for this script, but it managed to aim even lower.

It could be that structure of the two mediums makes for an unhappy merger, which is probably the most likely culprit here. The majority of comic strips are basically just quick jokes that don’t tell a running story, using stock characters to try and make for a funny situation. Taking that setup and then trying to expand it to fill 90+ minutes of movie doesn’t seem a good fit. The script doesn’t have great flow but does have a slew of jokes that it tries to jump between as quickly as possible. The bit with rescuing Odie is the only real plot element and it comes fairly late in the game, almost an afterthought.

It’s possible that this script has been rewritten since the draft I looked at. Or, at least I certainly hope so, although it would need to be a pretty major revamp to address most of my concerns. I doubt that happened, though, as filming was underway in March 2003, just three months after this draft was turned in. At this point I have to hope that the talented voice cast can inject some life into this project. It certainly needs the help. Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow are credited with writing this December 2002 script, adapting it from the long running comic strip by Jim Davis. Peter Hewitt (“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”) is directing this live action feature (with the title character handled by CGI), which is currently set to open on June 11.

Rating: D