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'Tom & Jerry': Film Review

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
 The eternal cat-and-mouse enemies return in a hybrid live-action/animated Tim Story film starring Chloe Grace Moretz.

A tired exploitation of intellectual property that became passé the night The Simpsons aired its first Itchy & Scratchy Show (if not decades earlier), Tim Story's Tom & Jerry is five to ten minutes of action that might have worked in one of the cartoon duo's shorts, surrounded by an inordinate amount of unimaginative, unfunny human-based conflict.

Slumming in the central role of this 'toon/live-action hybrid, Chloë Grace Moretz understandably invests as little as possible, maybe wishing she could be acting opposite physical Muppets, at least, instead of figures that will be drawn in at a later date.

Moretz plays Kayla, a victim of the gig economy with flexible morals. Stumbling into an opportunity for a temp job at a tony Manhattan hotel, she sabotages another applicant and assumes her identity. Soon she's facilitating a wedding that's supposed to be the biggest event in the hotel's 90-year history: Pallavi Sharda and Colin Jost play a couple who are famous for reasons the movie needn't explain. Suffice it to say that her father is rich and intimidating, and Jost's Ben can't stop adding flourishes to the wedding plans (exotic animals, a drone-copter) in an attempt to impress him and his daughter.

Unfortunately, another stranger arrives at the same time Kayla does: a mouse, whose presence, if discovered, would obviously wreak havoc on the wedding and nix hopes the hotel's chef (Ken Jeong) has for a Michelin star. Kayla winds up getting the hotel's manager (Rob Delaney, underexploited but always welcome) to hire a cat she meets as her partner in mouse-hunting. Meanwhile, Kayla's pompous but insecure boss (Michael Peña, who, in underplayed moments, earns 85 percent of the film's few non-slapstick laughs) is threatened by the newcomer, and looks for ways to undermine her.
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With just a bit of shading to add depth, animators strike a fair balance between CGI and pen-and-ink in their depiction of Tom, Jerry and the many other animals in the film. The hundreds of artists at work find a few opportunities for pleasure — like putting a tiny, real-looking backpack on Jerry, or getting Tom's fur wet in the rain.

But from the start, the pic's overall visual approach does them no favors. In the scene where Tom and Jerry meet for the first time, as the piano-playing cat busks in a park, extras stand in a group gawking at empty space as an unconvincing bit of drawn-in action unfolds. Later, the duo's first major fight scene destroys a hotel room: The tangibility of the chaos (broken chandeliers, holes in sheetrock) may amuse the youngest child viewers, but the disconnect between live-action and animation just makes one yearn for a beautiful Chuck Jones sequence, in which the world and those who wreck it are one.

A single sequence — in which Tom risks electrocution and more in an attempt to get at his nemesis while he's tucked in an upper-story suite — comes close to the antic violence that made this pair famous. But even here, Story and his crew do little that Robert Zemeckis couldn't accomplish, using 1988 technology, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit — and that film had a vastly, vastly wittier script.

Tiresome cat-and-mouse-and-temp-worker conflicts finally reach a natural conclusion, whereupon the dispirited viewer realizes the movie actually thinks we care about the humans in the background. "Somewhere, we forgot how to fight," sighs the bride, whose doomed wedding ceremony takes over the film. Even after it goes very predictably awry — you know exactly what's to come as soon as you see the ornate glass atrium — the movie has 20 long minutes to go, getting the lovebirds back together and ensuring that Kayla redeems herself. Does anybody else yearn for the days of animal-versus-animal cartoons that showed humans from the knees down, if they bothered to include them at all?
Production company: Warner Animation Group
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures (Available Friday, February 26, in theaters and on HBO Max)
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Pallavi Sharda, Colin Jost, Jordan Bolger, Rob Delaney, Patsy Ferran, Ken Jeong
Director: Tim Story
Screenwriter: Kevin Costello
Producer: Chris DeFaria
Executive producers: Tim Story, Adam Goodman, Steven Harding, Sam Register, Jesse Ehrman, Allison Abbate
Director of photography: Alan Stewart
Production designer: James Hambidge
Costume designer: Alison McCosh
Editor: Peter Elliot
Composer: Christopher Lennertz
Casting director: Lucinda Syson

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