Never let it be said that I haven’t paid my dues. When I began writing about movies, for a little online publication that no longer exists, my fourth assignment was the atrocious Garfield: The Movie. (The first was Starsky & Hutch, a more pleasant experience in the same way that hitting your thumb with a hammer is more pleasant than stabbing yourself in the eye with pliers.) I spent no little space in that review musing over Bill Murray’s inexplicable participation in such a project and indeed why it was made at all. Little did I suspect that two years later I would find myself covering the sequel — that only became clear a couple of months ago, when Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties began to loom on the June schedule, and I realized that, being the only Pajiba critic who had seen — or likely ever would see — the original, I would inevitably be the one to deal with its progeny. Sometimes it’s no fun being me.
There’s one way in which Two Kitties is an obvious improvement over its predecessor: It’s five minutes shorter. A small step, I know, but indubitably in the right direction. Should there be a third film, I would suggest a running time under an hour, with a brief intermission for the adults in the theater to step into the lobby and scream out their agony in a soundproof booth.
Really, though, there are a number of ways in which Two Kitties is preferable to the first film. The plot, though ridiculous and openly stolen from Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (despite the title’s Dickens pun), at least isn’t quite as played-out as the generic quest of the other film, and Tim Hill’s direction is smoother and more competent than that of his predecessor, Peter Hewitt. We also suffer less from the noxious presences of Breckin Meyer (as Jon, Garfield’s owner) and Jennifer Boobs Hewitt (as Jon’s chesty love interest) because their roles are reduced to little more than cameos. The animation is somewhat improved, and Bill Murray, thank God, does less singing — though his singalong with Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” is particularly unpleasant, and his CG avatar still has several dance numbers.
The plot is set in motion when Hewitt is invited to replace Jane Goodall as the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Royal Animal Conservancy — because when the world’s most eminent primatologist can’t make it, one naturally calls any random veterinarian in some unnamed American suburb. Meyer, who was just preparing to propose to Hewitt when she got the news, decides to follow her to London and pop the question there. (God, what tiresome, untalented children their union would beget.) Garfield (voiced by Murray) and Jon’s little dog Odie tag along, of course, and soon Garfield has inadvertently switched places with an identical English kitty named Prince (voiced by Tim Curry and portrayed with a particularly British indolence reminiscent of Charles Laughton), whose animal-loving aristocrat owner has just died and left her castle to the damn cat. At first, Garfield, the ugly American surrounded by uptight Brits (mostly barnyard animals), has a series of “Beverly Hillbillies”-style reactions to the opulence of his new surroundings, but soon he must get up off his ample, furry ass and foil the plot of the dastardly Lord Dargis (Billy Connolly, doing his best John Cleese) to take over the estate and kill or displace its many animal inhabitants in order to turn it into a resort. Still awake? Man, you must drink a lot of caffeine.
OK, so the plot and the action are terribly boring and predictable if you’ve read many books or seen many movies, but this film’s target audience necessarily hasn’t. My little sister was nine years old when the first movie was released, and she loved it but, then again, she’s an animal-crazy little girl who’d drag our mother to see a movie in which a cat napped in the sunny spot on the rug for two hours. If you’re cursed with such children, they may be able to enjoy Two Kitties, but I wonder if even they will find it a bit tepid. The children in the showing I attended laughed uproariously about a half-dozen times but were otherwise quite calm, though I guess merely getting a roomful of six- and seven-year-olds to sit still for an hour and 20 minutes is an accomplishment.
The screenplay, by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, who co-wrote the first Garfield and also collaborated on Cheaper by the Dozen and Money Talks, has the requisite dogs-peeing-on-shoes and dogs-biting-crotches scenes and flatulence jokes for the primary-school set, but the few attempts it makes to amuse the adults in the audience are bizarre and outdated — after 15 years, who still thinks it’s inherently funny to quote the “fava beans and a nice Chianti” line from The Silence of the Lambs? Where the first movie was bad in that it was actively obnoxious, much of the sequel is bad in that it is too bland and innocuous to give offense or, for that matter, entertainment. This, I suppose, also counts as some sort of improvement.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | June 16, 2006 | Comments ()