Given the fact that Tom & Jerry screenwriter Kevin Costello has a duo of self-aware, critically acclaimed projects to his name – the dramedy Brigsby Bear and Jean Claude Van Damme’s underrated television series Jean Claude Van Johnson – one might think he’d be able to create something innovative off the basis of 7-minute cartoon episodes surrounding the violent mentality of a cat and a mouse.
Whilst Tom & Jerry themselves roughly stay true to their origins as character archetypes, they’re ultimately sidelined in their own film in favour of human characters that are wildly uninteresting, involved in a plot that’s frustratingly void of laughs; an additive all the more infuriating given how much collective talent is on hand, with Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Pena, Rob Delaney, Ken Jeong, and Colin Jost providing the human factor in this live-action/animated mash-up that only further proves how ahead of its time 1988’s seminal Who Framed Roger Rabbit? truly is.
Set in a universe where cartoon animals – most who can talk too, save for our titular duo, keeping in with their original characteristics – and real-life humans happily co-exist, Tim Story‘s wildly miscalculated “family affair” puts the forever-squabbling duo in a narrative that’s unlikely to appeal to children and be deemed too simple for adults. Essentially a romantic comedy premise that’s neither remotely funny or romantic, the film mainly centres around the impending nuptials of a 1% socialite couple (Jost and Pallavi Sharda, both appealing enough but struggling with the trite material) and the “wackiness” that ensues at the hotel hosting this event.
Said hotel, The Royal Gate Hotel, has a rodent problem, but because that rodent is Jerry, the problems are a little more elevated as he’s capable of stealing items considerably more valuable than just your average slice of cheese, and for hotel manager Henry Dubros (Delaney) this is a disaster. Wouldn’t you know it though, con-woman Kayla Forester (Moretz, trying her best with what she’s been given) is nearby, freeloading off the hotel’s amenities and stealing hopeful employee’s resumes and passing off as her own; in the briefest of exposition we learn Kayla’s current job and living situation is dire, so naturally Costello’s script thinks us as viewers backing a thief and a liar is a smart ploy.
Now holding a position of relative power in the hotel – wouldn’t it be great if that’s how stealing resumes for job prospects actually worked – Kayla is tasked with ridding The Royal Gate of its Jerry problem, which means she’s going to enlist Tom to do the type of bidding he’s yet to master. Oh, and then there’s the whole Kayla-becoming-besties-with-the-bride plot that makes not a lick of sense and Pena’s scheming Terence Mendoza trying to sabotage her career (if you can even call it that) for no other reason than that’s what the script suggests. Throw in Jeong’s angry chef, further peddling the Asian stereotype he’s made a whole profession out of, and you have a wildly unlikeable ensemble in a film that absolutely doesn’t need so much outside noise.
Admittedly the animation is a treat, with the more classic 2D rendering adhering to the more classic temperament of the original Tom & Jerry episodes, and when the film opts to focus on the two it’s a stronger product, delighting in their simplistic nature of G-rated destruction. Whilst I understand the want and need to place the creations in a bigger setting, the idea to place them in a poorly written melodrama about a disaster wedding overseen by a duo of schemers was wildly miscalculated.
As someone who grew up watching the Tom & Jerry cartoons, the evident disinterest in honouring their legacy is even more noticeable across Story’s punishing 100 minute running time. A kitty litter-filled excuse of a film that offers too much “story” and not enough visual distraction for its intended audience, whilst also not providing any wit or nostalgia for the parents in tow, the best way to manage satisfaction from the titular duo in any manner is to revisit their original outings – you’ll feel all the more intelligent for it.
ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)
Tom & Jerry is screening in Australian theatres from April 1st, 2021