|Cat In The Hat, The (2003)|
|Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Friday, 21 November 2003|
I expected a dreadful movie -- I find Mike Myers revolting in everything he's done to date. Like a lot of movie stars who come from sketch comedy, he hasn't shown the slightest inclination of being able to build a character. He plays a few very specific traits, and that's it. In his case, he also clearly -- all too dismayingly clearly -- is convinced that he's a comic genius. To me, the only comedian who was ever able to show that he thought he was funny and BE funny was Red Skelton. And I watched Red Skelton. Mike Myers is no Red Skelton. He's not even a Tim Conway (another comedian who telegraphs his unshakable belief that he's a riot).
I found the first two Austin Powers movies to be occasionally amusing, but also dismayingly horrible. I'm fairly easygoing, and not especially prudish -- I laughed at the "American Pie" movies, for example. But Myers' constant pushing for the most grotesque, tasteless jokes repelled me, and I avoided the third Austin Powers movie even though it costarred one of my favorite actors, Michael Caine.
I wasn't exactly thrilled with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas;" it seemed crowded and cramped, both physically and in terms of the story. On the other hand, Jim Carrey genuinely gave himself over to the role of the Grinch, and gave a pleasing performance, however obscured by costume and makeup.
But both that and "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" have one overriding fault: there was no earthly reason to film those books as live-action features. The book of "The Cat in the Hat," after all, was deliberately limited: it used only 300 words, and was primarily designed to get young children to enjoy reading. There simply wasn't enough in it to make a feature.
As the feature itself demonstrates. The story is wafer-thin, merely a lot of incidents strung together as if that constituted a story in and of itself. Like "Grinch," "Hat" is full of Dr. Seuss-inspired sets and costumes, though they don't look so attractive when seen in greater detail and at full size. A Seuss neighborhood, when drawn by him, is charming and attractive in a goofy way; before the movie camera, a neighborhood of identical, narrow, two-story lavender-pink houses looks more strange than anything else. But the neighborhood looks monumentally appealing when compared to the gaudy downtown of "Anville" as seen here.
Bo Welch is a great, imaginative production designer; his debut here as director, however, is not at all promising. The movie is almost formless, and the blocking of actors is frequently awkward, even confusing. Furthermore, there's a wild divergence in acting styles; Kelly Preston's mom, Spencer Breslin's Conrad and Dakota Fanning's Sally are gritty realism compared to mom's boss Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes, trying too hard) or to neighbor Lawrence (Alec Baldwin, who's okay), who wants to send Conrad to military school and marry Mom. Myers' Cat is, of course, very broad. But it's also other things, not as worthwhile.
The setup is that Mr. Humberfloob has insisted that Mom work overtime on the day she's to hold a big business party at her home. Conrad is a loose cannon of a boy, who seems incapable of following rules, constantly making spectacular messes. Sally is his opposite -- a prissy rules-follower whose first daily task is to make a list of things to do. (The first item: make a list of things to do.) Naturally, they don't get along, and Conrad is always disappointing Mom.
Babysitter Mrs. Kwan (Amy Hill, unpleasantly grotesque-looking) arrives to look after the kids. When Mom leaves, she promptly falls asleep and winds up in a closet. Then the Cat in the Hat arrives and plunges the house into would-be merry anarchy. He abandons Seuss' rhymes as soon as he arrives, and Myers takes off into cloud cuckoo-land, mostly doing a reprise of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion. He has an unattractive, all-over hairy costume that hampers his physical expressiveness. Myers insisted on a makeup that allowed much of his face to be visible, primarily his eyebrows, but he ends up looking, as one reviewer described it, like a marshmallow with eyes.
To demonstrate Myers' versatility (certainly there's no other discernible reason), the Cat does Carmen Miranda for a while, as well as a Scottish chef. He flails himself about, laughing obnoxiously at his own jokes -- how deadly this is: a comic who thinks he's hilarious playing a character who ALSO thinks he's hilarious. In the books, the Cat was serenely confident and a bit impish, a figure of fun who does teach the kids some life lessons. Here, the Cat is frantic and mostly not very funny, selling every point as heavily as possible -- until, that is, the moment when he bids goodbye to the kids. That Myers effectively underplays.
The Cat and the kids mess up the house dramatically, with almost everything covered in large purple blobs, vaguely resembling Seuss' Ooblek. He opens a mysterious red crate and out pop Thing One and Thing Two who, like Conrad, do the opposite of whatever they're told. The Things are actually more interesting figures of comic anarchy than is the Cat himself. They look like residents of the Grinch's Whoville, and seem to be played by a quartet of gymnasts.
Breslin and Fanning are both very appealing performers and above-average child actors. But the script -- by Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer -- doesn't give them much to do other than demonstrate their traits of (Conrad) refusing to accept rules and (Sally) accepting them too much. Most of the time, the kids are just reacting to everything going on around them.
The Cat and the kids keep fending off Lawrence while they wreck everything around them. Toward the end, there's an outbreak of huge floating transparent globs that are rather interesting, though they don't do very much. The kids' pet fish (voice of Hayes) keeps trying to get them to behave properly, but he's repeatedly dismissed by the Cat. (Actually, his advice sounds reasonable.)
We never know how the Cat was summoned, but we finally learn that his mission was to get the kids to find ways of having fun, and to change their behavior overall. But this fun seems to involve destroying everything, although at the end it gets whittled down to bouncing on the couch. THIS required a six-foot upright talking cat with a red and white top hat?
Myers sells everything except his farewells way too hard and uses his booming Ha Ha Ha laugh far too often. It takes more than dressing a currently popular comic in a funny costume to make an appealing character. At least the Grinch himself learned something and came out of it all a kinder and better Grinch. The story here, of course, requires the Cat to remain the same -- but there isn't an interesting base line, so to speak. Myers is all over the place, trying everything, sure that each gesture and outburst is a riot.
He even insisted on off-color jokes. There's an erection gag, a reference to "dirty ho" and a setup to spell the most common word for excrement. And the Cat coughs up a hairball and makes fart jokes. No one could get Myers to remove this stuff. He seems to be of the dismaying opinion that the way to make a movie that appeals to adults and children is to have slapstick sight gags mixed in with ca-ca pee-pee jokes. Doesn't work. Take a look at the Pixar movies -- adults and kids both love them, and at no time do Nemo or his dad engage in wisecracks about prostitutes.
But the movie really isn't as offensive as I feared it would be. For one thing, it's very short -- 82 minutes which includes the long credit crawl at the end. It doesn't feel as overstuffed as "Grinch" and Myers isn't quite as obnoxious as he's capable of being. Don't get me wrong -- it's a bad movie, but, praise be, it's not a terrible one.