When the hero of a movie is so greedy, obnoxious and selfish that you find yourself rooting for the bunny-hunting bad guy, something is off in a fundamental way. That's the case with this sequel to Garfield (2004), itself a middling adaptation of Jim Davis' long-running comic strip. The titular housecat's comically exaggerated traits, and his owner's endless obliviousness, work well enough in the quick-hit, gag-a-day form of the newspaper comic, but even the 1988-95 Saturday morning animated series knew an extended narrative needs a less odious lead. There, Garfield had a comic self-awareness of his persona, and grudging but genuine goodwill. The new Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties opens with Garfield trying to sabotage owner Jon's marriage proposal and deliberately wreck the man's life. Bad cat.

The previous film, in a departure from the comic strip, had the beautiful, caring veterinarian Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) fall for Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer). Now, Jon plans to propose to her, but she's been called to an animal conference in London, England, after a last-minute schedule change. Ever the romantic, Jon jets to merry olde, thinking he's left Garfield (CGI, voice of Bill Murray) and dog Odie (live-action, no voice) at a kennel for the duration. The two pets, however, escape and hide in Jon's luggage, surprising him at his hotel room.

Liz is overjoyed at Jon's arrival, and as the two lovebirds go sightseeing, Garfield and Odie perambulate around town on their own. Meanwhile, the lady of a country castle has died, leaving the gargantuan estate to her cat, Prince (CGI, voice of Tim Curry). This does not sit well with her sole human heir, nephew Lord Dargis, who will in turn inherit the tourist-destination castle and grounds upon the death of Prince. One covered picnic basket and a toss into the Thames later, Prince is on his way far away.

Butler Smithee (Ian Abercrombie) accidentally retrieves lookalike Garfield from London. The castle's desperate barnyard animals (live-action, voiced by a host of such British actors as Jane Leeves, Jane Horrocks, Richard E. Grant, and Rhys Ifans, plus pro-soccer hooligan Vinnie Jones) face the butcher block should Dargis redevelop the land as a resort and spa complex. But Prince's bulldog aide-de-camp, Winston (live-action, voice of Bob Hoskins), cannily substitutes the pauper for Prince so that the animals can stall the solicitors, headed by Hobbs (Roger Rees). When gluttonous Garfield, living the life of Nero, discovers he's being used, he starts to leave. But with the arrival of the real Prince, whom Jon and Odie have found, Dargis' true gaslighting begins.

As in the Scooby-Doo movies, it's disconcerting to see a half-cartoon, half-realistic animal onscreen, particularly when Garfield's in scenes with real animals. The internal logic never seems settled, either: In some scenes, with Garfield's mouth moving, he appears to speak out loud to Jon; in other scenes, that doesn't seem so. The animals all are shown to speak among themselves, except for Odie-is he mute? Does he have some sort of animal autism?

My control-group kid, Erik, liked the movie well enough, and for anyone who's never experienced such much-imitated routines as the mirror gag from The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, those bits here will seem delightfully new. The movie is rated PG for "some off-color elements," but for the life of me I couldn't tell what they were-except perhaps for Jennifer Love Hewitt's famously bountiful breasts, which are consistently pushed up, squeezed together and shown off in surprisingly cleavage-baring outfits. Guess that's something for us dads.

-Frank Lovece