Star of a syndicated cartoon strip read in 2,600 newspapers around the world, Garfield is truly a contemporary cat--beloved for being fat, lazy and passionately self-serving. Garfield: The Movie, the live-action/computer-generated film debut of America's best-known feline, is strictly for the kids. Parents will find themselves yawning more often than not.

The plot involves Garfield's owner, Jon (Breckin Meyer), a good-natured fellow of infinite patience, accepting a slow-witted dog, Odie, as a favor to his secret love, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a good-natured veterinarian of infinite patience. She is the kind of physician who is snazzily dressed for cocktails when not wearing her obligatory white lab coat.

Garfield fights Odie's intrusion into the household and tries to make life miserable for him. That backfires, and Garfield soon finds himself relegated to the front porch at night, not even allowed to sleep in his own bed. When Odie is taken to a dog show, Garfield follows. The contestants chase Garfield hither and yon, leaving the field clear for Odie to dance for the spectators and win first place even though he is not officially entered in the show. One of the judges, Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), a bad-natured monomaniac with no patience whatsoever, sees Odie as his ticket to prime-time network glory. He kidnaps the dog and prepares to travel to New York.

The third act involves the obligatory big chase as Garfield--in a contrived change of heart--attempts to rescue Odie. Probably the funniest moments in the film occur when Garfield sneaks into the skyscraper where Happy's office is located, only to be flushed out of the air vents by sadistic security officers. Despite his exhaustion, Garfield is able to pursue Happy and Odie to the train station, with Jon and Liz only a few steps behind. Alas, the three of them are too late to stop Happy's train from pulling away. No biggie. Garfield sneaks into the control room and, pawing at the switchboard, shuts down all tracks. This causes universal paralysis, giving Garfield time to unleash, so to speak, a massive assault on Happy with snarling dogs and sinister rodents. This masterstroke assures a feel-good ending in which Odie is rescued and the villain, at the very least, suffers a punch in the nose. Oh yes--yawn--Jon and Liz get engaged.

Never explained is why Odie cannot speak, although the dog next door, Luca (voiced by Brad Garrett), articulates easily. Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow's script has all the suspense and excitement of a snail race on a wet track, but Bill Murray turns out to be the ideal choice for the voice of the computer-animated Garfield. His timing is perfect as he slides through a role dizzy with self-glorification. No problem for Murray. His super-smooth, sometimes ridiculously super-phony, super laid-back voice brings Garfield into smarmy, charming, spirited life. It is a match made in cat heaven and the main reason this uninspired entry might conceivably enjoy a sequel.

-Bruce Feld