Affectionate nostalgia can attach itself to the most inexplicable and undeserving of recipients, which is about the only explanation for the existence of Tom & Jerry, a new feature-length expansion of the cartoon shorts of the 1940s and 1950s (and endless television rebroadcasts thereafter).
Those were simple, slapstick cat-and-mouse chase comedies. Here, the characters are uneasily blended, Who Framed Roger Rabbit-style, into a live-action New York City, where a quick-thinking hustler (ChloÃ« Grace Moretz) bluffs her way into a job at a swank hotel in the midst of preparations for a high-society wedding. Tom and Jerry are also guests at the property, albeit uninvited ones. Shenanigans ensue.
Director Tim Story (of Barbershop and the execrable 2019 Shaft reboot) and screenwriter Kevin Costello reimagine Tom as a shades-wearing street musician, throw in jokes referencing Drake, TI, and TikTok, and fill the soundtrack with classic hip-hop.
It is all flop sweat, a sad, desperate attempt to make Tom and Jerry the one thing they never were: cool.
They also were not crass, which creates some tension with the demands of a contemporary "family" comedy; the low point of the picture finds an animated bulldog squatting and defecating in the middle of a crosswalk, prompting co-star Michael PeÃ±a (poor, poor Michael PeÃ±a) to shriek, "How many burritos did you eat?" The de rigueur slapstick scenes for the title characters do not even play, as the integration of animation and live action is so clunky that it feels like we are watching special effects demonstrations rather than gags.
Some of the performances are enjoyable. Moretz is charmingly game. PeÃ±a is funny because PeÃ±a is always funny, and Rob Delaney has fun with his role as the fussy hotel manager. But the laughs they generate have little to do with Tom or Jerry; they are borne of the personas and charisma of the cast.
There is some value to Tom & Jerry, though, in that it lays bare the unacknowledged truth at the center of the entertainment industry's undying fealty to existing intellectual property. Put simply: Just because it was on television when you were a kid, does not mean it was good.
Jason Bailey c.2021 The New York Times Company