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"DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT"
(2003) (Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Children's: A mischievous talking cat infiltrates the lives of a brother and sister in this live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' beloved tale.
PLOT:
Jean Walden (KELLY PRESTON) is a realtor who works for the "germophobic" Mr. Humberfloob (SEAN HAYES). When it's announced that a party will be held at her house, Jean panics. That's because her boss will fire her if her place is unkempt. She also knows that her son, Conrad (SPENCER BRESLIN) -- despite the best intentions of his fastidious and orderly sister, Sally (DAKOTA FANNING) -- will inevitably make the place a mess.

Thus, she panics when Humberfloob calls her back into work as she's trying to get their home ready. After briefly chatting with her boyfriend, next-door neighbor Lawrence Quinn (ALEC BALDWIN) who wants to send Conrad to military school, she gets Mrs. Kwan (AMY HILL) to baby-sit.

When the perpetually sleepy Kwan doses off, the kids hear a noise in the closet and are shocked to discover a 6-foot tall, talking feline known as The Cat in the Hat (MIKE MYERS). He doesn't think they're any fun and thus wants them to sign a contract where they can have all of the fun they want without getting into any trouble.

Conrad is ready to sign on the dotted line, but Sally - along with the now talkative pet Fish (voice of SEAN HAYES) - think that's not a good idea, but the Cat convinces her. Soon mischievous twins Thing 1 and Thing 2 arrive and things rapidly spiral out of control.

With the house a mess and the pet dog gone, Sally and Conrad do what they can to clean things up, get the dog back and avoid Lawrence, all before their mom gets home and The Cat and the two Things progressively make things worse.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Addicts may have their drugs and the rest of adults their caffeine, but for kids, the "narcotic" of choice is pure sugar. While most don't purposefully seek it out, it has quite the effect on them and their little nervous systems.

Symptoms of the "sugar high" are hyperkinetic behavior, short attention spans and the apparent need to bounce, figuratively and literally, off the walls. If you've ever witnessed or had to deal with such an altered juvenile chemical state and thus been driven to the point of insanity, you'll know what it's like watching "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat."

With the success of that other Seuss tale, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," I suppose it was inevitable that we'd have additional films based on the work of Mr. Geisel. Like that effort, this one features a famous comedian in makeup and has taken an extremely short tale and tried to stretch it to "feature length."

The quotes are due to a running time of only 70 some scant minutes (credits included) that end up feeling like an eternity. That's not only due to the aforementioned hyperkinetic nature that makes the film feel like a pinball machine on speed, but also due to everything about the film - save for one element - not remotely working.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not some Seuss purist who hates the notion of potentially bastardizing the beloved source material. Rather, it's from having to watch an annoying, wreck of a film that simply misfires on nearly every cylinder.

The biggest problem - among the many - is that Mike Myers (he of "Austin Powers" fame) is annoying, repetitive and tiresome in his portrayal of the titular character, when the opposite should have been true. Following Jim Carrey in going full-bore into the character (and then some), he's constantly "on" from start to finish, never taking a moment for a breather (much like the overall picture).

To make matters worse, he's simply retreading his past character shtick (mugging and other bodily/facial expressions - even behind the fur and prosthetics - delivery of dialogue, accents and the like) as filtered through Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion character from "The Wizard of Oz." Rather than creating or at least playing a unique character, it just feels and sounds like Myers regurgitating his past routines.

While the Cowardly Lion bit might be deemed homage - however misplaced it might be - is the rest self-homage? Whatever the explanation, it all feels too self-conscious and contrived. As a result, the barrage of attempted humor and gags feels out of place in the tale based on clever and some may say elegant word play from the doctor (a bit of which does appear as voice over narration).

It also feels a bit too adult for what should obviously be a kid-friendly effort. Although little ones and those working a sugar buzz will probably enjoy the offering - due to the look, zaniness and overall frenetic pacing - it's not even in the same cinematic universe as the far superior offerings from Pixar.

And while there's plenty of material aimed at adults (some of it surprisingly risqué), the vast majority of it falls flat. In fact, the cleverest thing about the film is the opening credits that do a fun, Seuss-like riff on the logos for the participating studios (and if you didn't catch the name of one of them, there's a shameless, grind the film to a halt plug for one of their parks). That and the terrific if loud and appropriately busy production design are about the only things worthy of note.

The plot by Alec Berg & David Mandel & Jeff Schaffer (all former TV writers making their collective feature debut) is insipid at best and there's little that actually has much to do with the original tale beyond the basic premise.

Despite or perhaps because of that and the decision to go with the pedal to the metal approach, first-time director Bo Welch (a former production designer) can barely keep this offering within the framing and everything thus feels scattershot and episodic. As a result, it becomes the Mike Myers show (rather than Seuss) and considering the aforementioned problem with his performance, that's not a good thing.

Spencer Breslin ("The Santa Clause 2," "Disney's The Kid") and Dakota Fanning ("Uptown Girls," "I Am Sam") inhabit the two kids from the original tale and are okay, but the latter is once again typecast as a precocious type-A child.

Kelly Preston ("What a Girl Wants," "View From the Top") appears as their harried mom and Alec Baldwin ("The Cooler," "Pearl Harbor") plays a new character designed as the obligatory cinematic villain. Sean Hayes ("Pieces of April," TV's "Will & Grace") and his "germophobic" character disappear not long after the opening, although his voice continues in the role of the talking fish.

Although I'm guessing it's going to make a gazillion dollars at the box office and then on home video, this is a massive misfire and mistake of a movie. Forced, contrived and about as artificial as they come, it's a marketer's dream, but a critic and sane viewer's nightmare. Unless you enjoy watching the cinematic equivalent of the world's most annoying sugar buzz, I'd give the film a wide berth. "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed November 18, 2003 / Posted November 21, 2003


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