Tom and Jerry, that immortal pair of cat and mouse enemies, get a shot at bringing in a whole new generation of viewers in the live-action/animated comedy Tom & Jerry (streaming on HBO Max for the next 31 days). It didn’t occur to me before I watched it, but it would be difficult to come up with a feature length movie’s worth of ideas for these two. Besides the fact that they don’t talk, all they really do is fight. There is the risk that it could get old long before we would get to the 100-minute mark.
The creators of Tom & Jerry came up with a solution: make the story about the human characters. Yes, Tom and Jerry are supporting acts in their own movie, popping in occasionally for their usual brand of shenanigans. That is a shame because, not only are they the draw here, they are also by far the highlight, though just a few of their gags are genuinely funny. It is an even bigger shame because the human stuff is uninteresting, unfunny and uncreative.
The actual protagonist is Kayla, a young woman who cons her way into a job at a fancy hotel on the weekend they are hosting a highly anticipated wedding. Most of the plot concerns her attempts to stop the events coordinator from discovering that she’s a fraud. Of course, Tom and Jerry end up inside the hotel to continue their rivalry. This is where the biggest problems with this production come in as their actions are made to fit into something resembling our world (at the very least, a version of our world where all the animals are animated), as opposed to crafting new characters that fit into theirs.
Chloë Grace Moretz, who stars as Kayla, is charming enough to stand next to a cartoon cat and mouse whacking each other with mallets and not seem like she doesn’t belong. However, focusing this on her personal journey toward proving herself to the snooty hotel management and ingratiating herself with the super-wealthy bride and groom defeats the entire purpose of adapting the Tom & Jerry cartoons in the first place. Instead of this being about watching them cause mayhem and destruction, it is more about how Kayla has to cover for, clean up after or desperately try to prevent their mayhem and destruction. That is far less fun.
Actually, fun is something largely missing from Tom & Jerry. It feels like it was made by people who have no idea what has allowed these characters to hang around for eighty-one years and counting. It just plops them into a standard family-friendly plot, surrounded by humans that (with the exception of Kayla) the screenplay doesn’t seem to care about. There is definitely more attention to detail given to the titular characters; yet much more time is given to, say, a bored-looking Michael Peña as the dull-witted events coordinator or Colin Jost as the beyond clueless groom trying to impress everyone with his extravagance. Their gags are nowhere near as energetic or fun as Tom and Jerry’s. Unfortunately, Tom and Jerry could be lifted out of the plot with only a few relatively minor changes. That should not be the case for them in their own movie.
I can imagine that Tom and Jerry would be challenging characters to adapt into a full-length, live-action story. There is a reason this has been in development since 2009. How do you update them for today, keep them faithful to their original incarnations and give them enough to do in a movie that is ten times longer than their shorts? The answer, to awkwardly shove them into a derivative product about clichéd chaos at an expensive hotel, is tremendously unsatisfying.
1¾ out of 5
Chloë Grace Moretz as Kayla
Michael Peña as Terence
Pallavi Sharda as Preeta
Colin Jost as Ben
Rob Delaney as Mr. Dubros
Jordan Bolger as Cameron
Directed by Tim Story
Written by Kevin Costello