Lethargic cat Garfield (voiced by Bill Murray) has it easy with his daily regiment of television, lasagna dinners, and the inexhaustible affection from his owner, Jon Arbuckle (a dreadfully miscast Breckin Meyer). When Jon attempts to woo Garfield's veterinarian, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), he takes in a stray dog named Odie in the process, threatening Garfield's comfy world. The fat cat hates the dumb dog, but when an evil television personality (Stephen Tobolowosky, "Groundhog Day") kidnaps Odie, Garfield springs into action, mounting a rescue mission to bring his loathed competition home again.
First things first: this isn't Garfield. Yes, the film is called "Garfield: The Movie" (IMDb listing), but one look at this strange production makes it abundantly clear where the filmmakers decided to go off on their own whims. The film is about the activities of a lovable, curmudgeonly fat cat who hates Mondays and adores lasagna, but that's where the connections to the iconic source material end. This "Garfield" exists on its own planet, where a computer generated feline can coexist with flesh and blood people and pets who were originally envisioned to be as cartoonish as the cat.
While it wasn't necessarily a rousing call to arms in terms of artistic urgency, Jim Davis' original "Garfield" comic strip was a charming, genial diversion from the standard funny page offerings. Spun off into a cartoon television series for many years, featuring the rich vocal talents of Lorenzo Music (who passed away in 2001) as Garfield, the show was an excellent adaptation of the strip, and served as the premiere format to get your fill of the feline's antics. For his big screen debut, the 2-D animation is gone, but strangely the filmmakers chose not to fully animate the story in CGI (too expensive?). "Garfield: The Movie" features only one computer creation, and that's Garfield. The rest of the animals are trained performers, which leaves the film with the unpleasant air of a studio short-sheeting the production. While Garfield is a fully functioning cartoon creation, his animal pals Odie, Nermal, and Arlene are not, which doesn't make a lick of sense. It also ruins the fun for the fans who have spent decades with a visual presentation of Odie chiseled deep into their brains, but here he's just a genuine dog. How boring.
The rest of "Garfield" doesn't exactly ring any bells either. There's a labored story engineered to get Garfield out of the house with the help of a random "bad guy," but that really doesn't add up to much outside of a way to work in four plugs for Wendy's and several other product placements (Petco, Wal-Mart, Goldfish Crackers). And there are the humans of the story: Jon and Liz, played with a palpable degree of embarrassment by Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Love Hewitt in particular seems at a loss for words portraying such a one-note love interest role, as well as parading around in tiny dresses, presumably hoping that the fathers in the audience won't be completely bored.
The only saving grace of the film is Bill Murray's inspired vocal performance as Garfield. Personally, I was guessing that Murray would just phone the role in (and why not?), but his breathless acting as the title character infuses some life into this dull film, and he's a good fit with the cat. He doesn't quite have the sardonic tempo of Music, but his Murrayisms are entertaining, if never truly funny, and he gets an opportunity to sing, with songs from James Brown and Billy Joel. Murray is fun in a film that is anything but.
Imagine if the filmmakers only animated Shrek in "Shrek 2," and that might provide an interesting example of the lunacy on display here. Audiences new to the Garfield world might not notice, but to fans, this film is a slap in the face.
Filmfodder Grade: D+