How does one evaluate a film with no ambitions except to be a sequel? Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties succeeds at that: it is a sequel down to the necessity of giving us two computer-animated cats instead of one on the second go-round. The old convention says that a critic should judge a film in relation to what it sets out to achieve. But there must be a point where a film sets out to achieve so little that the guideline ceases to be useful. I fear we may have found it.
The idea is stolen directly from, oh, three thousand previous movies, stories, fairy tales, television shows and film strips. Garfield, the unbelievably lazy housecat with a fondness for lasagna, has a doppelganger who is — yes! — a British aristocrat named Prince! Not only is he an aristocrat, but he is the sole heir of an enormous estate, and lord of the gaggle of housepets that for some reason resides in the mansion’s courtyard. Billy Connolly, himself a doppelganger for John Cleese, plays the devious next of kin plotting to kill off the cat — who, in case you were wondering, winds up trading places with Garfield himself through a series of wacky coincidences.
Garfield is voiced by Bill Murray, who must have better ways than this to earn an easy paycheck. Tim Curry, who is the voice of Prince, is an extraordinarily funny man in a one-joke role that’s missing a joke: he’s British, you see, and we are meant to be amused by the fact that he — a cat! — spouts phrases like “old boy” and “pooh-pooh,” and sometimes “pooh-pooh, old boy.” Garfield’s jokes, meanwhile, never transcend the premises that Garfield likes lasagna and that Garfield is very lazy. They are not so much jokes as restatements of these ideas. Oh, and a dog in a chef’s hat also passes for a gag.
The film could nonetheless have been entertaining, overcoming its flaws with style, energy, or at least great CGI. A Tail of Two Kitties does none of the above. It’s plodding and boring, directed with a point-and-shoot mentality by Tim Hill (Max Keeble’s Big Move), and preferring to parade talking barn animals across the screen rather than display any hint of wit, verbal, visual or otherwise. I hate to blow any film off as a cynical “quick buck” venture, since I think most movies that make it through Hollywood production are labors of love to someone. But A Tail of Two Kitties is so devoid of personality, even despite the presence of Bill Murray, that it’s hard to draw any other conclusion.
Come to think of it, the title is fairly indicative of the sort of movie this is. “A Tail of Two Kitties”? Really? Why? I may have missed something, but to my knowledge, the two kitties depicted here don’t have the same tail, although the film is certainly a tale about them. But why would any self-respecting screenwriter acknowledge such realities when there is a clever feline-Dickens pun to be made? Never let the facts get in the way of a good title, even if you’ve made up the facts yourself.