The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) lives the kind of life that rarely makes the big screen. She spends her days giving makeovers at the Retail Rodeo and her nights watching her house painter husband of seven years Phil (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) sit on her couch and get high. All of that changes though when she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) the new cashier. The eager yet troubled young poet/screenwriter/novelist-to-be captures her imagination and eventually becomes her lover. In classic moments of small-Southern-town trysting he takes her to his room in his parents' house and arranges meetings outside the Chuck E. Cheese's. They shack up in a motel at the edge of town; they rendezvous at a lake in the country. Throughout the affair though Justine is torn and guilty wanting to be a "good girl " but finding herself a hateful woman--a self-proclaimed adulteress and a liar. This is no whitewashed fantasy of a romantic affair between an older woman and a younger man. This affair is your sister's your brother's your husband's your wife's. It's real it's gritty and it's painful. Ultimately Holden's love for Justine becomes morbid and obsessive causing her to realize that the man she thought would change her life was in fact "at best a child and at worst--a demon." Justine is then forced to choose: this obsessive love and the excitement it brings or a stable--if boring--life with her husband.
Aniston proves her mettle at last in a role that finally allows her to do so; no one who sees this film will ever again accidentally call her "Rachel" (her character on the ubiquitous sitcom Friends). Her performance perfectly captures the tension of wanting to be a "good girl" yet secretly yearning to be selfish. You know she's dueling with herself as she makes decision after decision that leads inexorably to the film's tragic ending and you feel her pain. Justine is flawed like all the rest of us and Aniston brings this humanity to the forefront creating one of the most realistic heroines in recent history. Gyllenhaal too is perfectly cast as the brooding intense Holden. He captures the duality screenwriter Mike White writes into nearly all the characters in this movie: You want to snuggle Holden one minute; the next you wish he'd just go away. Reilly and Nelson also demonstrate a not inconsiderable subtlety in roles that could easily have become caricatures; instead the tension between what these guys wanted from life and what they ultimately ended up with accentuates Justine's turmoil and deepens the film's theme. On the film's lighter side White puts in a hilariously dark turn as Corny the Bible-thumping security guard at Retail Rodeo and Zooey Deschanel is excellent as the classic employee with an attitude hurling insults at Retail Rodeo customers over the loudspeaker as she announces the latest bargain on aisle eight.
The Good Girl doesn't look like much. Darkness and shadows invade every corner of the screen at one point or another the sets are fairly commonplace and the costumes are simple: Lee jeans smocks plaid shirts and painter's pants. Even Aniston's pink bathrobe is dull and washed out. The Good Girl is a smart delicately ironic and insightful partnership between a brilliant screenwriter (White) and a director (Miguel Arteta) who know exactly how to bring words to life on the screen. And The Good Girl does come to life in a well-paced funny quirky package that leaves you thinking that above all what you have seen is a slice of truth in a mixed-up crazy world.
Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) loses his wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) in a bus accident in Venezuela. Emily who was a pediatric oncologist had been sent there on a medical mercy mission and was trying to leave when the accident occurred. Six months later Joe is having a difficult time coming to grips especially because her body was never recovered. He immerses himself in his work as the head of emergency services but his friends are all very concerned. Concerned that maybe he's going crazy. See Joe who usually doesn't believe in the afterlife thinks Emily may be trying to communicate with him. First he gets weird messages from some of Emily's cancer patients who claim they have talked to Emily and that she wants Joe to go "inside the rainbow." Then at home he feels a presence in the house and thinks his wife may be working some voodoo through many dragonfly references a personal totem to Emily because of a birthmark on her shoulder in the shape of the insect. It's supposed to be spooky right about now but it's more laughable than anything else. The journey Joe finally embarks on leads him back to Venezuela where he desperately searches for a piece of Emily's soul. Can we say closure anyone?
Where has the Kevin Costner we all remember from the Dances with Wolves days gone to? Since his Academy Award-winning opus Costner has managed to make as many bad films as he possibly could. Maybe being in a huge-budget film like Waterworld and having it tank miserably (otherwise known as the Heaven's Gate curse) has affected his judgment. In any event Costner does his best to keep afloat in this movie playing the rational Joe a man who is a "mind without a heart." But ultimately he spends most of his time losing his mind over all the strange "happenings" around him rather than playing the part of a grieving husband. Just one word of advice: Get a new agent Kevin. It's also not quite clear why some really great actors such as Kathy Bates and Linda Hunt decided to take small meaningless parts in the film. Everyone in the film is a cliché down to the children on the cancer ward who are wise beyond their years and the disapproving hospital administrator played by Joe Morton who wants Dr. Joe to take a break. There was a colossal waste of talent in this movie.
In an attempt to capitalize on the whole spooky ghost genre done so well in films such as The Sixth Sense and What Lies Beneath Dragonfly just falls flat as a pancake. Director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; Patch Adams) just doesn't have the same skills of a M. Night Shyamalan to pull something like this off. Admittedly there are moments when you jump as "the big spooky thing" happens even though you can see it coming a mile away but the film seems superficial rather than cutting deep in Joe's psyche--it's unimaginative in all its elements. The "clues" that finally get Joe on the road to Venezuela--the dragonfly paperweight flying off the table cancer kids eerily repeating the same thing over and over again--are forced and not in any way poignant. Only in the conclusion when Joe realizes why he's been sent on this journey does the story take a nice twist. Some may call it sappy but it worked on some level. Still we are talking about only 10 minutes of the film.
After 20 years with the LAPD Det. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) just wants to catch the crooks finish the paperwork and retreat to his mundane life at home where he eats TV dinners and pursues his hobby of making bad pottery. Patrolman Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) really wants to be an actor--he's only a cop because he made a lousy waiter. When Sellars bungles Preston's undercover case and media hounds catch it all on tape the irate Preston shoots up a news camera that gets in his face. Over-caffeinated network exec Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) upon seeing the damning evidence that could have killed her cameraman is captivated by Preston's complete lack of charm and convinces her superior she can save his crappy network by pairing Preston and Sellars up on a reality show. As expected Preston is reluctant--and even more so when he's forced to take the mugging Sellars as his partner. The two take impromptu acting lessons from iconic actor/director William Shatner (playing himself) and set off to attract an audience boost the ratings become celebrities and get the bad guys in a televised reality christened Showtime. Meanwhile the evil Cesar Vargas (Pedro Damian)--whom we know is evil 'cause he hides in the shadows he's flashy and well groomed and he mumbles in an unfathomable Third World/ European accent--is stockpiling guns powerful enough to knock down houses and blow the doors off a Brinks truck.
The movie offers a few good yuks--a coke-sniffing dog an unprecedented cameo by jive-rhyming lawyer Johnnie Cochran and William Shatner satirizing William Shatner (who does this better than anybody else satirizing William Shatner). Unfortunately we've seen a lot of his funniest stuff like the scene in which he demonstrates how to roll over a car hood cop-style in the previews. Rene Russo gives an effective souped-up Lethal Weapon-type performance with her hyper pushy fast-talking network exec desperate to make her name in the industry. De Niro's straight-man comedy is in his facial expressions--or lack thereof--and Murphy is…well Murphy. It's their first outing together and they play off each other like a foul-mouthed version of Abbott and Costello (guess who plays who?). We've seen De Niro play grumpy (Midnight Run) and Murphy play obnoxious (almost everything) before. But as you may suspect it's their grade-A chemistry that holds this badly stitched predictable though occasionally funny flick together--especially in regards to the jokes on Hollywood and the current bounty of reality TV.
You can smell the gags and The Odd Couple-versus-Goldfinger plot unfolding a million miles away. You just know Preston is hiding a gun inside that Big Gulp when he goes undercover to investigate a pawn shop and you know Vargas will make bad-guy errors in judgment like staging a robbery in downtown L.A. the day after he's confronted by our star cops in a populated disco. But that may lead you to wonder why the police--who are likewise not presented as being particularly bright in this movie--weren't trailing him as Vargas is the prime suspect in the gun-trafficking subplot. Some of the comedy borders on satire but isn't played up enough for you to tell if it was meant that way or not. The action scenes are so badly edited it's hard to tell who's chasing whom until the camera cuts back to Murphy's toothy grin and a cement-faced De Niro shooting out his car window. And speaking of commercial-laden reality TV the product placement in this movie is shameless--we get a full-length commercial for Apple Computers played not once but twice.
Now that word is out of Dr. Dolittle's ability to talk to animals his business is booming. Distraught pet owners ambush him outside his home and furry critters tap on his window during dinner all wanting some sort of advice. Joey the Raccoon has a special request: he has been sent by the God Beaver to solicit the doctor's help in saving their forest from developers. Dolittle reluctantly agrees to look for endangered species living in the forest so that the law can be invoked to protect it. He discovers Ava a lone Pacific Western Bear living in the soon-to-be-demolished forest and sets out to find her a mate. Enter Archie a performing circus bear. Dolittle convinces Archie that he would be happier living in the wild and to help the bear adjust to the wilderness the doc relocates his own city-dwelling family to the forest much to his teenage daughter Charisse's (Raven-Symoné) dismay. But the match between the two bears is not exactly made in heaven and when the plan backfires the animals organize and plot a worldwide strike.
Murphy seems lately to have traded in his adult-oriented comedy of the past (Beverly Hills Cop 48 Hours) for one that appeals to a younger audience (Dr. Dolittle Shrek). In Dr. Dolittle 2 Murphy is funny and comfortable enough in his role as the doc who can talk to creatures big and small but it is the animals that generate the biggest laughs. Smooth-talking Joey the Raccoon voiced by Michael Rapaport ( Men of Honor) positively steals the show with lines like "Mafia? We don't know anything about no Mafia do we boys?" The flighty voice of Lisa Kudrow who plays the endangered bear Ava is appropriate enough for the part but you can't help but wonder if it's Phoebe Buffay wrapped in a bear pelt. Norm Macdonald narrates the entire film as Lucky the Dog but the lines are surprisingly vacuous and Lucky spends most of his on-screen time peeing on things and making passes at wolves. A grown-up Raven-Simoné (The Cosby Show) returns to her role as Charisse Dolittle and is convincing enough as the brooding rebellious teenager fed up with animals clambering up her balcony and vying for her father's attention.
As with the acting the animals easily steal the show. The filmmakers use different methods to achieve realistic animal interaction including motion-control cameras that filmed the animals separately and later created a composite shot. Digital animation techniques animate some of the animal's mouths and facial features while others like Joey the Raccoon are completely animatronic and required several people to operate them during filming. These special effects must have burnt up most of the budget however because the outdoor sets with their moss-covered Styrofoam rocks look totally fabricated. The animals were amusing to watch and delivered good one-liners but they were mostly about defecating and bestial libido. Sadly not even the animal kingdom is able to transcend social stereotypes like Pepito the Mexican chameleon who gets excited at the mention of tacos or the French beret-clad monkey who is perpetually drunk. The film also portrays the life of a circus bear in a curiously positive light--unless they really do take bubble baths in swank accommodations--that clashes with the whole animal rights theme.
Supermom Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her geneticist husband Norman (Harrison Ford) are adapting to their only daughter's departure to college when Claire begins sensing an unearthly presence in the couple's lakeside Vermont dream home. Is she losing her marbles or is that the spirit of a beautiful young woman she keeps glimpsing? To say any more (as the too-explicit ad campaign does) would spoil some delicious twists.
The toplining Ford is his usual solid self in a role that plays cleverly on his familiar persona but the picture is Pfeiffer's from beginning to end. She delivers one of her most pleasing performances nicely disarming audience doubts about the story's supernatural elements with some judicious eye-rolling and embarrassed frowning -- her character is so painfully aware that what she's saying sounds crazy how can we possibly doubt her? Among the low-key supporting cast Joe Morton ("Terminator 2") stands out as an amiably down-to-earth psychiatrist.
Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") takes Clark Gregg's highly derivative haunted house script and pours on the Hitchcockian visual flourishes unapologetically pilfering from the Master's "Rear Window" and "Psycho " among others. His extended homage results in scene after scene of almost unbearable tension as the audience waits for the next shock. There's some clunky storytelling in the first section but the all-suspense second half more than makes up for it with some classic work including what seems destined to go down in movie history as "the bathtub scene."