If Tom & Jerry feels retro, that isn’t because it harkens back to the gleeful anarchy of the duo’s original animated shorts, since it rarely does. Instead, this slapdash cinematic lark feels like a holdover from another era, lost in a time capsule of style and perspective. It might most resemble the late-‘90s/early-‘00s string of cinematic reboots, which placed a premium on “reimagining” the source material, so intent on pivoting to a Hollywood movie context that they lost touch with their inspiration’s inherent charm. The gleeful anarchy of Tom and Jerry’s ongoing battles are timeless, but this movie seems lost in a vacuum of blandness.
None of that is to suggest the film is particularly bad – it’s aggressively benign, inoffensively entertaining for solitary moments that are instantly forgotten, so non-descript in its execution that it seems made for those people who exit every movie proclaiming “it was…okay” with a shrug. Indeed, it is okay, uninspired and uninspiring, a passing amusement that exists to amiably pass 100 minutes of this interminable quarantine. For parents who are increasingly desperate for kid-centric entertainment options, that might be reason enough to pay the $15 subscription fee for HBO Max.
One slight drawback for viewers, however, is that this movie titled Tom & Jerry doesn’t seem to have much interest in Tom and Jerry, struggling to find ways to wedge its title characters into the margins of its plot. Why, it’s almost as if it’s difficult to make a feature film about one-dimensional animated short characters who can’t talk – though mercifully, disembodied voices are not forced upon this iconic silent duo, a decision that may be the film’s chief virtue. Rather than work to meet the challenges of building a story around these voiceless adversaries, screenwriter Kevin Costello uses Tom and Jerry as the objects of the story rather than the subjects, adding occasional spice to the otherwise human-centric screenplay.
That spice is essential, since the humans are bland ciphers, written as concepts as opposed to actual characters, and played by actors who don’t know if supposed to play the material straight or go full-tilt into scenery-chewing. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Kayla, a…homeless grifter? Hard to tell since the screenplay offers us nothing in terms of backstory. Whatever the case, Kayla schemes her way into a live-in hospitality job at a posh New York City hotel, where preparations are underway for the high-profile wedding of Preeta and Ben, “the most famous couple in the world.” They are…influencers? Royalty? Pallavi and Ben are played by Australian star Pallavi Sharda and Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost, who are confused as we are.
Tom and Jerry have…both recently relocated to NYC? Tom is a humble street musician and Jerry is just a greedy, opportunistic jerk. When Jerry takes up residence inside the walls of the hotel, Kayla hires Tom (just go with it) to exterminate in advance of the wedding festivities. That sets the stage for a handful of vignettes in the vague spirit of the great old Tom and Jerry shorts, though they’re so brief and infrequent it’s as though the movie views them as required boxes to tick rather than nostalgic set pieces.
As I sit here writing this review, even I’m surprised at how bad it all sounds on paper. The experience is less painful and more curious, as if everything feels unfinished, which is quite strange for a film that’s been in development for over a decade. There are a couple interesting flourishes where the animation – 3D VFX rendered to maintain the essence of classic 2D – is blended seamlessly with the production design, but they end abruptly. Almost everyone involved seems to have one foot in and one foot out, with the exceptions of Moretz, trying really hard to achieve a comic awkwardness that just doesn’t work, and Michael Pena as a nefarious hotel employee, who works his own vibe independent of everyone else.
So non-descript is Tom & Jerry that while it was playing, I couldn’t stop humming Supertramp’s “Dreamer,” which was featured in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, from way back in the summer of 2000. I remember that film as being quite bad, but I suppose it’s better to be remembered two decades later than forgotten while the movie is playing.