Not long ago, in a West wood called Holly
Lived a producer named Grazer, whose taste was sheer folly.
He took a short children’s tale about a creature, the Grinch,
Then enlarged much upon it, mindless of stench.
It mattered to him not, if all charm were shorn ‘way,
Since all Grazer wanted were audiences who’d pay.
And pay, yes, they did, as they flocked to the show –
Grazer, people said, was so much in the know!
Then Chistmases passed, as Christmases do,
Until Grazer brought us something … well, not at all new.
No Grinch this time out, but a cat! In a hat!
And Mike Myers would play him — the gross would be fat!
“The Christmas season will be mine!” Grazer avowed.
“It’s what audiences want — it’s big, vulgar and loud.”
But the jury’s still out on his big Christmas wish,
Since the banquet he’s offered … reeks like week-old fish.
If nothing else, I will grudgingly admit that the Brian Grazer-produced Cat in the Hat is a hell of a lot scarier than this week’s other big release, Gothika. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that was the aim here.
In truth, I had harbored high hopes for this attempt to bring the Dr. Seuss classic The Cat in the Hat to the screen. I like star Mike Myers, and former Tim Burton production designer Bo Welch (Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns) seemed like a good bet to translate this sort of whimsy to the screen. And even as the early reviews rolled in, I held to the idea that maybe — just maybe — the movie was simply too strange, too visionary, too off-the-wall for mass consumption. The sad truth is that it’s simply too misbegotten.
Everything — and I mean everything — about Cat is both poorly conceived and badly executed. There are maybe a half-dozen bright spots within the film’s seemingly interminable 82 minutes. By my calculations, that represents a grand total of about four enjoyable minutes — a singularly uninspiring average.
Problems start from the very beginning, mounting steadily as the minutes trudge by. I don’t begrudge the screenwriters taking a certain amount of liberty with Seuss’ 61-page book, since it obviously requires a degree of expansion to fill even a short feature. But the movie starts with a dull thud, piling on a lame and needless backstory involving Mom (Kelly Preston, decked out in what appear to be rejects from Reese Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde wardrobe), her job at the Humberfloob Realty Company, and her villainous, fortune-hunting boyfriend Quinn (Alec Baldwin, wearing something like Jack Nicholson’s old Joker outfit from Batman). It doesn’t help that the film’s world is a creepy cross between Seuss artwork and the stylized suburbia of Edward Scissorhands. This isn’t whimsy — it’s more like being trapped in a day-glo nightmare.
The setup goes on and on, while we wait patiently for Myers’ titular Cat to show up, and to liven things up. When he finally appears, things don’t get much better. Neither the writers — nor Myers, and certainly not Welch — have a clue what to do with the character. There’s absolutely no focus.
At first, Myers’ Cat looks and sounds like a knock-off of Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz; before you know it, he starts sounding more like Jack Haley’s Tin Woodsman from the same film. This must not have satisfied anyone, as the Cat is next turned into a kind of over-excited Charles Nelson Reilly. None of it sticks, and none of it works, because Myers constantly flip-flops between approaches — as if he were trying to play all his various Austin Powers characters at once.
For once in my life, I fully sympathized with Dakota Fanning: When she was apprised that the cure for her “control freak” personality problem involved a choice between a series of painful shots or the Cat performing a musical number, she inquires with some perspicacity, “How many shots?” Regardless, she’s then subjected to a bad, overblown production number with Myers doing a Carmen Miranda impression.
Before you know it, the film veers off into a strange sequence involving the Cat and the children watching a live infomercial for the “Kupkakeinator,” with Myers in various guises. This actually works better than most of the film, because it allows the comic actor the room to actually inhabit other characters. Alas, it’s too little too late. And it frankly smacks of desperation — something that only increases as the movie goes on. The end result is like a stand-up comic frantically throwing out stale jokes in a vain attempt to save an act he knows is bombing.
Since inspiration is all but unknown to Cat, it’s hardly surprising that it continuously falls back on scatological jokes and misplaced innuendo (do we really need a “family film” where Myers’ Cat ogles a centerfold of Mom, and his hat and tail become erect?), and the mystifying notion that “bad language” is in itself somehow amusing. When the film stops dead in its tracks for the Cat to look at a soil-encrusted gardening implement just so he can call it a “dirty hoe” and leer at the camera, you know something is very wrong indeed. (I pity the parents whose children are apt to repeat this at awkward moments, despite having no clue what it means.)
Charmless, shapeless and utterly lacking in wit, Welch’s film serves only one useful function — to make a viewer realize what a charming experience Elf really is. Cat in the Hat, on the other hand … well, replace the “C” with an “S” and an “H,” and you’ll be right on the money as to what the filmmakers have truly made here.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke