I don't remember a rave scene with a cameo by hoochy hotel heiress Paris Hilton in Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat," do you? How about a Playboy centerfold sight gag or a joke with the punchline "You dirty 'ho"?
I guess Universal Pictures had to do something to stretch the beloved-but-brief children's book into an ill-advised $90 million motion picture -- and it seems first-time director Bo Welch and his team of ex-"Seinfeld" writers figured stomping all over creator Theodore Geisel's grave was as good a way as any to do it.
Insufferably inane plot padding dominates this feature film pillaging entitled "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" (the incorrect punctuation is the studio's, not mine) -- a story that was, once upon a time, about a mysterious, mischievous, talking, rhyming giant feline who turned a rainy afternoon into kooky chaos for a couple of kids.
But this cinematic "Cat" substitutes the book's simple messed-up house for insipid sci-fi chicanery about the house being engulfed by some transmogrifying gloop from another dimension. This "Cat" tacks on bald-faced product placement (making the Universal Studios pitches ironically self-aware doesn?t forgive them). This "Cat" turns the kid's mom (a grotesquely cake-makeuped Kelly Preston) into an overworked career-woman cliché who is too stupid to see through the cheap facade of a weasely, kid-hating suitor (Alec Baldwin), thereby inventing a Hollywoody "villain" for the children to defeat.
And this "Cat" stars Mike Myers in the fur-and-rubber-encased, nearly expressionless title role -- an ad-libbing monster of a mistake in an inexplicably boring and humorless movie that's nothing but mistakes and lifeless, lazy musical numbers.
"Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!" he bellows every few scenes, punching the air with his cartoonified three-fingered fists and laughing a giddy, hoarse little chortle that is 40 percent Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz," 40 percent Joe E. Brown's Osgood Fielding III from "Some Like It Hot," 20 percent Myers' own tiresome schticks (Scottish accents! Five-minute infomercial spoofs!) -- and zero percent Dr. Seuss.
"The Cat in the Hat" has always had a couple fundamental problems in that 1) the Cat is a jerk -- he spends the whole story messing up the children's house, after all -- and 2) the moral of the story seems to be that you can do whatever you want as long as you don't get caught.
But the "Cat" movie amplifies these ills tenfold. Despite the fact that the children -- a stock-cutesy Type-A control freak (Dakota Fanning, who did the same thing in "Uptown Girls") and her a bratty, sugar-fueled, all-Id big brother (over-eager Spencer Breslin from "Disney's The Kid") -- spend the whole movie in a panic over the bedlam the Cat is creating, in the end they hug the fleabag and gush "This day has been amazing. Thank you for everything!"
Huh? Thank him for what? Until that moment, all they wanted to do from Act One was get rid of him.
Aside from an enjoyably hammy performance by Baldwin, who beefs up his character's stock malevolence with a dull-eyed but glinty-toothed goofiness, "The Cat in the Hat" movie has exactly one thing going for it: The production design of Alex McDowell ("Minority Report," "Fight Club," "The Crow"), who creates an reasonably Seussical world with broad strokes of color and off-kilter architectural conformity.
Until this picture, director Welch was a production designer of some note himself ("Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands," "Men In Black"), so it's no surprise the picture looks great. But by the time "The Cat in the Hat" was half over, only one indelible visual was burned into my mind: a sad, Lorax-like cartoon of Geisel crying his eyes out.
Run time: 82 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st November 2003
Box Office USA: $100.4M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes: 10%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 141
IMDB: 3.8 / 10
Director: Bo Welch
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