They're calling it Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, lest we confuse it with Hannah Arendt's The Cat in the Hat, but the one thing this new movie version of everybody's favorite fun-with-phonics book could use a little more of is Dr. Seuss -- his way of sneaking up on a joke or a rhyme. Overproduced by the same people who overproduced How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat features a way-out-there performance by Mike Myers, -- la Jim Carrey's green meanie. And, as with Carrey, there's enough going on that you wish director Bo Welch, heretofore known as a production designer (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), had let the movie catch its breath every once in a while, snuck up on a joke. Instead, it's paced for kids with attention deficit disorder and a mouthful of amphetamines. Clocking in at 78 minutes, it's over before you've had a chance to figure out how bored you are.
With very little to work with in the way of characterization -- the book's just a few hundred words long, shorter than this review -- Myers lets fly with a whirlwind of gags and routines, shape-shifting like Robin Williams' genie in Aladdin. Much of it will sail right over the heads of the movie's target audience, just as it appears to sail over the heads of Sally (Dakota Fanning, the little girl in I Am Sam) and Conrad (Spencer Breslin) Walden, who've been left home alone with specific instructions not to tear up the house. Tearing up the house is what kids do, of course, and the script, by former "Seinfeld" scribes Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer, makes it clear that the Cat in the Hat is the Freudian projection of all the stuff kids would do if they thought, for even one second, that they could get away with it.
Myers reportedly based his performance -- the voice, anyway -- on the late TV producer-director Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth. If so, then Paltrow must have sounded a lot like the Cowardly Lion by way of Linda Richman, host of "Coffee Talk." It's nothing like what I imagined the Cat in the Hat would sound like. Nor did I, in my wildest dreams, imagine the furry critter getting a stiffy -- tail straightens, hat elongates -- upon seeing a photograph of Mrs. Walden (Kelly Preston). But I can't say I didn't laugh. And with so little to go on, why not turn the Cat in the Hat into a Borscht Belt comedian? If Dr. Seuss were alive today, wouldn't he be rhyming words with "poop" and "pee"?
Possibly, but at least he'd be rhyming them. "I can't believe you whizzed on my taco," Alec Baldwin, as Mrs. Walden's sleazy suitor, says to the family dog at one point. Where's the poetry in that?