The Cat in the Hat

Bearing a slight, coincidental resemblance to a book by Dr. Seuss, “The Cat in the Hat” is an 82-minute advertisement for bodily functions.

“Try the new fart today!” “Have you had a belch lately?” “Pee: It’s what’s for dinner.”

These, along with nose-picking and vomiting, have enough screen time among them to warrant an above-the-title credit. And while grossness isn’t, in and of itself, a reason to dislike a film, it is when it’s unimaginative and unfunny as it is here, and when it betrays the benign vision of the man who first imagined the story. The crudity is a desperate attempt by a team of apparently bad writers (Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer) to inject humor into an otherwise flat script. The attempt fails, and the screenplay’s flat landscape sinkholes into a valley of flop sweat whence no joke can return.

In Dr. Seuss’ book, two bored children are visited on a rainy day by a cat who not only talks, but also wears a hat, the latter fact apparently being the most unusual in that day and age (1957). The cat inadvertently makes a mess while attempting circus tricks, whereupon he brings in Thing One and Thing Two, who worsen the mess. Subsequently, the cat cleans up the mess and departs, leaving two astonished children to gape after him and wonder whether to tell their mother when she returns.

In the film, directed by Bo Welch (a production designer making his directorial debut), that basic, five-minute story remains essentially the same, but it is magnified beyond all reason, exaggerated and repeated to the point of annoyance.

The cat is played by a creepily makeupped Mike Myers, doing a Queens, N.Y. accent not unlike Linda Richman’s and laughing wheezily like the Cowardly Lion. Where the book version was mischievous but restrained, even dapper, the movie cat is devilish and outrageous, a vaudeville performer who seems to take delight at how his disasters cause the children such consternation.

For you see, their mother (Kelly Preston) is hosting her office’s monthly meet-and-greet tonight, so the house must be spotless — especially so because her obsessive-compulsive boss (Sean Hayes) will attend and has threatened to fire her if there is so much as a germ.

Furthering the threat is mom’s boyfriend and next-door neighbor (Alec Baldwin), a smarmy gentleman who pretends to like the children but secretly hates them and wants any excuse to send the boy to military school.

Whatever the reasons, anal-retentive Sally (the anal-retentive Dakota Fanning) and rebellious Conrad (Spencer Breslin) want to keep the house clean while mom’s at work and are only slowly won over by the cat’s antics. I’m afraid the antics did not work on me. Myers is a dangerous performer. If you give him too little to work with, or not enough direction, he’ll revert back to his old “Saturday Night Live” habits of mugging and mincing. He does this here almost constantly, also repeating a catchphrase — “Oh yeah!!” — so frequently that the actual count nears infinity.

The jokes are occasionally funny, but more often lame and uncreative. Four times, the film resorts to the gag of someone almost saying a swear word but being stopped just in time, or altering it to something else at the last second. Such a device can be funny once, perhaps, but four times in an 82-minute film?

At one point, the cat, the Things and the children wind up out of the house and in the city’s downtown, where they happen upon an underground rave at which Paris Hilton is in attendance. I’m sure I will not be the only critic to point this out as the moment that typifies the film’s disregard for Dr. Seuss’ whimsical, child-like vision and the whoring of his work. That a film of this beloved classic was made is not the problem; I liked “The Grinch,” and surely Dr. Seuss’ stories lend themselves to the visual medium of film. The problem is when the film runs roughshod over the story and characters while making a beeline for the product tie-ins and pop-cultural references. The book is timeless. The movie is the opposite, a blip in the radar that will cease to exist in a matter of weeks.

D (1 hr., 22 min.; PG, a lot of crude humor and some innuendo.)