Fitting the Bill

Murray makes Garfield more than a bad cat movie

So let's get this straight: You're a much-loved comedian who just did a low-budget, multiaward-winning film with an acclaimed up-and-coming director. In recent years, thanks in part to your work with the younger, edgier filmmaking set, you're starting to be taken seriously as an actor. You even managed to score an Oscar nomination, something few might have predicted when you were on that late-night comedy show way back when.

So naturally, for your next project, you choose to be the voice of a grotesque computer-generated cat. Not just any cat, mind you, but Garfield,based on a comic strip that hasn't been funny in two decades. Huh?

Now here's the really scary part -- the movie's not that bad. Even in this era of Joel Siegel and Peter Travers, no self-respecting reviewer wants to be "that guy who liked Garfield." The cartoon strip has become a metaphor for cynical overmarketing and can't even manage to sustain a compelling plot over three panels these days.

But it's Bill Murray. And damned if he isn't as entertaining as ever, even in an obese, furry cat body. If it weren't for him, there'd be nothing at all to the film, which forgets all conventional notions of story or characterization. The actors are mostly as disposable as the reed-thin premise, in which a low-level TV-show host (Stephen Tobolowsky) kidnaps slobbering mute canine sidekick Odie after seeing that the dumb ol' dog can do some new tricks for the cameras. It's all about Murray, who plays Garfield like he's that old lounge singer from Saturday Night Live -- Murray even gets to belt out a tune or two in gloriously unself-conscious bombast. Many of his lines are so head-and-shoulders above the rest of the material that you have to imagine Murray improvised some of them. "Whaddaya say we play brain surgeon?" he says to dim-bulb kitten Nermal at one point. "Would you get my power tools?" Later, watching a throng of rats retreat, he bids them farewell with, "Good luck with the plague -- and rabies and everything!

 
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