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‘Tom & Jerry’ brings iconic animated duo into the real world

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Abbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Martin and Lewis. Lemmon and Matthau. Farley and Spade. Ferrell and Reilly. The history of cinema is rife with comic duos, esteemed teams that have done great things to advance the art of the laugh. Some were dedicated double acts, others came together through circumstance, but all brought us joy.

So it is with Tom & Jerry. The animated cat-and-mouse pairing has been delighting audiences since their debut in 1940 with their trademark slapstick mayhem. But now, they’re taking a trip into the third dimension.

“Tom & Jerry” is a live-action/animated hybrid film directed by Tim Story from a screenplay by Kevin Costello. It brings the iconic duo into the real world, folding together the outsized violence of the original shorts with an ostensibly real setting.

Now, you might wonder if characters whose body of work consists almost entirely of shorts can translate to a full-length feature. The answer is … sort of? While the Tom and Jerry dynamic remains intact and still largely works, the truth is that the kinetic explosiveness of their interactions simply can’t be sustained for 101 minutes. And while everyone in the human cast is doing their best, it doesn’t always click.

All that being said, kids are almost certainly going to dig this film, even if they might want a little more cat-and-mouse. And parents – particularly parents with fond memories of these characters – may well find things to like as well. Not a spectacular success, sure, but far from terrible.

Tom is a cat with a dream, playing his piano in Central Park in hopes of being discovered. Jerry, on the lookout for a new place to live, encounters Tom and tries to steal some of his thunder. The results of this interaction are, of course, extremely physical and wildly silly, leading to Tom inadvertently crashing into a gig worker named Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz, “Shadow in the Cloud”) and causing her to lose her job.

This indirectly leads Kayla to the Royal Gate Hotel, where a few shenanigans wind up landing her a temporary job for which she is wildly underqualified. The hotel’s head honcho Mr. Dubros (Rob Delaney, “Bombshell”) takes a shine to her, though ambitious events manager Terence (Michael Pena, “Fantasy Island”) has suspicions about her abilities.

And there’s no room for error right now, because the Royal Gate is scheduled to play host to the wedding of the year between Ben (Colin Jost, TV’s “SNL”) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda, TV’s “Retrograde”). Everything has to be just so, so when Jerry decides to make his home in the Royal Gate, he becomes a problem – a problem that Kayla is left to solve.

Her solution? Bring in some help – the four-legged kind. She enlists Tom to help capture Jerry and get rid of him discreetly. Unfortunately, there’s nothing about the Tom and Jerry battle that even remotely resembles discretion, and so, wouldn’t you know it – hijinks ensue.

The battle of wits (ish) between Tom and Jerry threatens to upend the entire event. And all the while, Terence continues to harbor suspicions about Kayla and who she really is, even as Tom and Jerry continuously contribute to the chaos. But when things go too far, it’s up to Kayla – with the help of her furry frenemies – to push through her self-doubt and save the day.

Again, for a movie titled “Tom & Jerry,” there’s maybe not quite as much Tom and/or Jerry as one might expect, but the truth is that that these two were never about narrative, and while there are some who would be perfectly content to watch a hundred minutes of animated anarchy (*raises hand*), if you want to tell a feature-length story, well … these two need a little help.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some pretty delightful set pieces here, packed with the general zaniness that made Tom & Jerry such a beloved duo in the first place. And the filmmakers have done solid work in integrating the 2D animated characters (there are more than just our titular critters, but no spoilers) into the three-dimensional world of the movie. We get a few chase scenes – a T&J specialty – as well as a couple of delightfully Rube Goldbergian trapping scenarios. These are without question the most fun parts of the movie.

(Though there are a couple of unsubtle winks and nods – usually revolving around other WB properties – that will make grown-ups chuckle, even if its just a laugh about how on-the-nose they are.)

The non-animated portions of the proceedings are, well … less animated. It’s nobody’s fault – the performers are going for it and actually do good work pushing the story forward while also embracing the oddness of performing in this kind of hybrid work. It’s just not that interesting of a story.

Moretz is fine, though the script leaves us wondering more than once about her in terms of her personal ethics. Still, for someone who spends a LOT of time with scene partners that she can’t actually see, she does well. Delaney has some nice understatedly goofy moments. Jost is exactly the same as he always is, though it does work here. Sharda’s definitely the more engaging of our betrothed couple. Jordan Bolger does his best as a rather ill-conceived and shoehorned-in love interest. Patsy Ferran brings the right flavor of weird as an oddball bellhop and Ken Jeong hams it up in a couple of scenes.

But we need to talk about Michael Pena. There is no reason for him to go as hard as he does here. He could easily have coasted. Instead, we get a guy who is an ideal heavy for this kind of movie; he really digs in and lets it rip. Whether he’s reacting to (never-seen) animated animal poop or frantically trying to explain what he saw in the “animal tornado,” he’s the right brand of self-involved and incompetent to serve as the main bad guy (for a given value of “bad guy,” of course).

“Tom & Jerry” isn’t a great movie, but it isn’t trying to be. It is a simple, fun film that wants nothing more than to give your kids a good time. And in that respect, it’s reasonably successful. I had fun. Perhaps you will as well.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 01 March 2021 13:00

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