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Tom & Jerry (2021)::rating::2::rating::2

The old Tom & Jerry shorts were a whirlwind of glorious, violent savagery. Much like Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, there’s a strange poetry in witnessing two wacky combatants, perpetually destined to wage physics-defying war on each other. They’d take their lumps, little chirping birds would flutter around their heads, but they’d always live to rehash their visceral conflict in the next cartoon.

Nothing about that never-ending ballet lends itself to a full-length feature. Tom and Jerry was never big on plot–it was all in-the-moment shenanigans. That means the makers behind this cinematic adaptation commit several sins at once: In order to get this stinkeroo up to movie length, they have to move Tom and Jerry into the real world, where a buffet of boring human subplots can pad things out. This also allows a talented cast to flounder, and some impressive–read: expensive–visuals to go to waste in a story that doesn’t merit them. TL;DR: When it comes to two sociopathic cartoon animals trying to murder each other, this is as boring as it gets.

The movie starts strong enough, with the welcome presence of A Tribe Called Quest over the opening credits. Before we can wipe our feet on the rhythm rug, the story plunks down in Central Park, where Tom and Jerry busk to make ends meet. Their battle for the spotlight ultimately intersects with Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), an ambitious, resourceful young woman. She breaks up their squabbling and heads on her way.

Later that day, Kayla cons her way into an internship at a posh Manhattan hotel. Her hiring takes place just as the hotel is about to host the season’s biggest social event: A high-profile wedding between two well-groomed influencers (Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda). She’s having doubts about the whole thing, while he’s going way over the top with elephants and drones and…ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz…

Whoah! What?! It’s the Hamburglar!! Wait–I must’ve dozed off there. Sorry about that. Anyway, Kayla quickly runs afoul of the hotel manager (Michael Peña, playing the role that used to be reserved for Tim Curry). As always, managers at fancy movie hotels always have to be flummoxed, panting, and lightly damp from sweat, and this dude fits that bill. He quickly senses something’s amiss about Kayla, and quickly resolves to expose her as a fraud.

And, wouldn’t ya know it? Ol’ Tom and Jerry decide to take up residence at the hotel and rip it to shreds. They fight and fight, destroying property and injuring countless people all around them. As the hotel can’t allow a rodent on the grounds, Tom gets hired to hunt Jerry down. Meanwhile, there’s a scroungy kitty gang on the hunt for Tom, a bulldog who likes to drop stinky loads in the street, an awkward bellhop (Patsy Ferran) with supernatural powers, and a bartender who might have the hots for Kayla.

So, if you’re looking for stuff to not give a flying crap about, this movie has 101 minutes of exactly what you need. The filmmakers are clearly trying to riff on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the results are middling: That classic film had a clear line drawn (pun probably intended) between animated and human characters. The whiskered, boozy Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) may not have resembled a real-life person, but he definitely could’ve crawled out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. Valiant was a well-rounded protagonist with a surprisingly touching story arc. Hell, even Roger Rabbit had heart of gold. In Tom and Jerry, everyone’s a one-dimensional cartoon character, whether they want to be or not.

Unfortunately, this strands some talented performers out on the ice floes. Moretz is a compelling young actress, and she’s commanded the screen in much better movies than this. (Check out Greta, it’s a solid little junk food thriller.) Peña has the potential to be funny, smarmy, or empathetic, sometimes all in the same scene. Here, he’s just a boring doofus villain who doesn’t even have a mustache to twiddle. Finally, Colin Jost has a sharp sense of humor. I’ve seen it with these two eyes. You’d never know it from the bland character he plays here.

And I know Tom and Jerry ain’t supposed to be Trip to Bountiful. A cartoon cat and mouse bashing each other over the head with cricket bats is only going to be so good. That’s also why these Golden Age animated characters work so well in short bursts. There was no need to add bulky plot or farcical human characters. Freed of such storytelling constraints, they could be goofy, thrilling, hilarious entertainment. This Tom and Jerry completely misses that boat.

101 min. PG. HBOMax.

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