MOVIES

As Entertaining As A Monday Without Lasagna

Initially, it looks like we’re getting a feature-length origin story of how the orange tabby (Chris Pratt) wound up living with owner Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult) and beagle best friend Odie (Harvey Guillen) after a brief introduction, but we flash back to the present day shortly after for a high stakes kidnapping plot.

The pets are kidnapped from their kitchen by the two canine henchmen of Persian cat Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), which via an elaborate string of events, leads their paths towards Garfield’s estranged father Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), with whom they must team up on a dairy farm heist. In short, you’d be physically incapable of condensing the mere set-up of this narrative within a three-panel strip, with director Mark Dindal — a Disney veteran who hasn’t helmed a movie since 2005’s “Chicken Little”; consider this his long-awaited parole from director jail — and his screenwriters convoluting the source material’s simple charms to the extent it’s barely recognizable as a “Garfield” story. The world of Jim Davis’ comic strip is a hermetically sealed one; a mundane suburbia, frozen in time and unburdened by any overt cultural ties to the real world. A “Garfield” strip from 40 years ago could be mistaken for one from five years ago, as there will never be direct references within the panels to the latest headlines, or pop culture phenomena which could age them. This is an approach the movie doesn’t share, which wouldn’t be a problem if the pop culture gags within weren’t lazy.

There is one exception to this, as Garfield and Vic’s heist is co-ordinated by Otto, a bull voiced by Ving Rhames, who is all but reprising his role as hacker Luther Stickell from the “Mission: Impossible” franchise – you half expect him to start calling other characters Ethan after he gives them detailed instructions via headset. It’s the only gag aimed at any parents watching that doesn’t bend over backwards to call out what it’s referencing, which isn’t to say the film is fully restrained. The famous theme song to that franchise briefly overpowers the score in one moment, and in another, Pratt’s feline breaks the fourth wall to claim that only he and Tom Cruise do their own stunts, and that’s just to name the moments in which “Mission: Impossible” gets called out in the screenplay. Kids’ movies referencing older works that children in the audience won’t have seen is hardly new, but each pop culture nod is inserted without any punchline to justify its inclusion. The reference is the extent of the joke, as if it were a placeholder in an early draft of the screenplay to be worked into something sharper just before production, which none of the three credited screenwriters (one of whom, David Reynolds, co-wrote “Finding Nemo” — you’d never guess from this) got around to doing.

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