‘The Garfield Movie’ is a non-PC delight; ‘The Beast’ is a French sci-fi head scratcher with a great movie-within-a-movie

Let’s eat – and eat and eat: The politically incorrect lead in ‘The Garfield Movie’.

THE GARFIELD MOVIE ***1/2 (101 minutes) G
Among the many delights embedded in the fast and very funny shenanigans of The Garfield Movie is a very pleasant shock.

As we all should know by now, cartoon feline Garfield, created in 1976 by comic strip artist Jim Davis (an executive producer on the film), is characterized by his love of eating and sleeping, his hatred of exercise and healthy living, and his “whatever” attitude to life in general.

All very politically incorrect – especially for a kids’ film, given that anything designed for that demographic is supposed to be a delivery vehicle for positive, progressive messages as well as entertainment. (Disney has proved that forcing this concept can lead to very costly failure.)

So, what an unalloyed joy it is to see that the creatives behind this wonderful movie (directed by Mark Dindal) have opted, quite decisively, to preserve all those qualities that have made Garfield an icon of the politically incorrect. Chalk it up as a blow in the Culture Wars.

He’s a fat slob who not only eats pizzas in one gulp, he will fastidiously remove any potentially healthy scrap of greenery from any food he is about to inhale. How could any right-thinking person not love such a lasagna-gulping, vegan-despising character?

Hence, there’s no awkward, shoe-horned, “responsible” messaging to ruin the outright fun of an action-packed adventure that, ironically, is loaded with a raft of positive, resolutely traditional messages about family, parental love, loyalty and the perils of misjudging people.

Sporting a finely-honed, fully baked plot that would rival any early Pixar film or Bourne movie – no, that’s not a joke – the film fills in the untold backstory to Garfield as it launches him on a heist-driven jaunt with Vic, his long-absent deadbeat dad.

Garfield and his dopey dog companion Odie (also politically uncorrected) are kidnapped by Jinx, a posh Persian feline long-angry at Vic for the jail time she had to serve after he ditched her during a robbery at a milk farm.

In compensation, they must steal for her a giant load of milk, a venture that will be supervised by her comedically matched henchman Roland (a large dog) and Nolan (a small one).

Plenty of jokes and a good deal of visual wit – Jinx lives in an abandoned mall – underscore a snappy story front-loaded with the type of invisible foreshadowing that provides a series of very satisfying pay-offs in the film’s final reel.

The voice cast includes Chris Pratt (Garfield), Samuel L Jackson (Vic), Ving Rhames, Nicholas Hoult, Hannah Waddingham, Snoop Dogg, Jeff Foxworthy (famed redneck comedian) and Cecily Strong, who puts in a great impression of Frances McDormand’s Marge from Fargo.

As for how The Garfield Movie compares to the unfairly trashed Bill Murray live-action films Garfield: The Movie (2004) and Garfield: ATail of Two Kitties (2006) – well, it’s funnier and a worthy successor.

The film has already been a hit at the US box office, giving Furiosa: A Mad Max Story much stiffer competition across the Memorial Day weekend than anyone dared anticipate.

THE BEAST **1/2 (155 minutes; partially subtitled) M
Best described as a period sci-fi psycho thriller, The Beast is a head scratcher for about an hour as we try to figure out what is going on with young French woman Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux). Never mind the reassuring, concise synopses you’ll find online (at IMDb, Wikipedia, etc), it’s a muddle.

As far as any mildly reasonable filmgoer can work out, Gabrielle is mentally flitting between time periods as a result of emotion-suppressing treatments she’s getting in 2044. She keeps encountering a gent called Louis (George MacKay, from 2017), who seems to know all about her time travel and keeps talking about feelings.

The yarn, from writer/director Bertrand Bonello is not just hard to track, it gets tedious – that is, until the big gear shift at the half-way mark when we suddenly find ourselves inside what appears to be another movie.

Louis is now a lonely American college guy with good looks and swanky car but no luck with women, a sour state that is the source of mounting frustration and deep resentment, all of which he dutifully videos on his phone.

Based very obviously on Elliot Rodger, the virginal, woman-hating student who murdered six female students and wounded 14 in an attack on a sorority house in 2014, this takes the film to another level as Louis begins stalking Gabrielle, who is living alone in a big house.

It now feels like we’re watching a tightly directed psycho thriller, and it’s pretty compelling stuff, right up until the shock finale.

This makes up for the rest of the film, which at least brings many of the narrative’s disparate elements together at the end so that it ends up making some sort of sense.

One can so easily imagine an American studio head advising Bonello to drop the rest and just concentrate on the psycho thriller part as a stand-alone piece.