In my wanton youth, I read Jim Davis's Garfield comics with delight, chuckling over the fat cat's pithy punchlines, like "I hate Mondays." Soon, when I was old enough to understand why someone would hate Mondays, I had outgrown the daily comic strip, which is just as well, as the strip was well on its way to its current embalmed state alongside The Family Circus and Dennis the Menace, deadeningly repeating the same jokes with no attempt even at inspired variation.
Though I wouldn't have thought it possible, today's Garfield: the Movie is even worse than today's Garfield the comic strip. Witless and overstuffed with product placements and irrelevant hip-pop songs, the movie dutifully makes wan lasagna jokes—the cat loves lasagna—and provides a bad guy to barely propel its 80-minute runnning time (we know he's the bad guy because he says "I hate lasagna").
Amazingly, Bill Murray provides the voice of Garfield; not so amazingly, he brings all the passion of a clock-puncher to his understandably listless readings of consistently unfunny dialogue. Luckily for the filmmakers, Garfield is supposed to be listless (Garfield fans have thrilled for years to the late Lorenzo Music's lovably droning voice of Garfield in animated specials and series). Murray's performance plays like a clock-watching endurance test of thudding pop-culture references, including two separate references to Apocalypse Now: "I love the smell of apple cinnamon in the morning— smells like victory" and "Never leave the cul-de-sac, never leave the cul-de-sac..." Murray's one funny line: "I know you can't hear me, but can't you just listen?".
Breckin Meyer (Road Trip) and Jennifer Love Hewitt play the dippy human leads: Jon, Garfield's owner, and Liz, their comely veterinarian. In the comics, Davis drily painted Jon as a pathetic loser, constantly shut down by a sarcastic Liz. In the Disney-fied screen version (actually produced by 20th Century Fox), Jon is an easy-to-love bumbler with family values, who smites Liz with his wholesome charm. When Liz sends Jon home with deceptively vapid stray dog Odie, Garfield finds his comfortably lazy life threatened. After Garfield nastily kicks Odie outside for the night, villainous TV host Happy Chapman seizes the opportunity to claim the talented dog as a meal ticket out of obscurity.
Garfield: The Movie makes an enemy of originality, plying annoying non-jokes (like "Got milk?" and the ubiquitous Garfield car-hanger sight gag) and simulating energy with poorly executed musical numbers (Murray sings the Billy Joel pastiche "New Dog State of Mind" and, here's a fresh one, "I Feel Good"). Anyone over the age of six will have to amuse themselves with the mechanics of special-effects-experienced cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) shooting around a non-existent cat to create Rube Goldberg scenarios of destruction.
NOTE: In the small consolation department, Garfield: the Movie is preceded by a tightly plotted Murphy's Law-scenario short cartoon called "Gone Nutty." Featuring Scrat, the prehistoric rodent from Ice Age, "Gone Nutty" uses the Warner Brothers paradigm of pummeling a character for a tragic flaw of nature: Sylvester for bird-chasing, the coyote for road-runner-chasing, Pepe le Pew for girl-chasing. Scrat's "flaw," I suppose, is hording more than he needs, and his efforts to cram one nut too many into his wintry stash lead to funny disasters in this rather delightfully sadistic outing.