starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Ken Jeong
written by Kevin Costello
directed by Tim Story
by Walter Chaw I want to say right off the bat that Hanna-Barbera's "Tom & Jerry" cartoons were in constant syndication when I was a kid. I watched them every day after school, like all my friends did, and we agreed that we liked it best when Tom and Jerry were friends. We weren't peaceniks; honestly, I think all the unleavened brutality of the cartoons got tedious after a short while and we were starved for something that suggested creativity beyond how best to murder a cat. Thinking back, I wonder if these cartoons had anything to do with how cat abuse is still played for comedy in movies--I mean, you can't hurt them, right? The thing that's tempting about reviewing the new Tom and Jerry is to not take it very seriously. There's enough to skewer, after all, without bothering to engage it. Yet real people worked on this, an entire animation company's creative capital was spent on doing everything they could to honour the questionable source material (and they do a really good job), and now here it is, the second attempt at a feature-length Tom and Jerry movie in almost 30 years, ostensibly landing as some sort of family entertainment designed to make your kids docile and pacific for 100 minutes. Honestly, I don't think it's worth the damage it potentially does. I mean, you can feed your children paint chips, too. And it'll fill 'em up! But the cancer is something to consider.
Tom and Jerry is about Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young woman "not qualified for anything" who finagles her way into a job at a chichi hotel by stealing the resume of a much more qualified young woman. Her immediate superior, Terence (Michael Peña), is instantly suspicious of her bona fides and, in a painful monologue in which he talks about clawing and scratching his way to the "middle" of the leadership ladder as a hospitality manager, he declares his intention to expose her ruse. Peña, because he is Mexican-American from a family of farmers and factory and social workers, brings a certain tragic gravity to this scene, since it's fair to wonder if someone who was not Mexican-American and had put in the same amount of work would have done more than rise to the middle. Moreover, it lends some gravity and tension to the idea that Terence would want to expose how this twenty-something white woman won a position in his organization with none of her credentials questioned and was immediately placed in charge of the hotel's huge event: the wedding of two Instagram influencers, Ben (Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda). Terence is being fucked, and the movie wants us to root for the fucking.
Ben, because he's a rich white guy, wants to have the most ostentatious wedding there ever was. Preeta, however, wants something a bit more sedate. There's a subplot where Ben treats Preeta like a child, constantly fretting she'll lose her giant engagement ring--which would be bad enough, but then Preeta loses her giant engagement ring. It's like those "I Love Lucy" plots where Ricky scolds Lucy for being loose with money and then she's loose with money. Oh, Preeta! I will say that Moretz is wonderful in a sort of Judy Holliday performance, all surprised reactions and open energy. I think Moretz can pretty much do anything and here's your proof. If you're wondering how this is a Tom and Jerry movie, that's a really good question. I don't know. The world of the film is a weird one where all the animals appear to be animated--kind of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit--but zoologically-specific. After a scene in a fish market, I wanted to see humans choking down animated steaks and stuff; no such luck. Some of the animals talk, although it doesn't seem consistent which ones and when and about what. Director Tim Story receives a credit for voicing a pigeon who raps periodically as a narrator/Greek chorus that I suppose I don't understand what plot he's meant to forward. Anyway, what was the question?
Right, Tom and Jerry. Well, they both want to live in the hotel where all this other stuff is happening, and apparently, Preeta doesn't so much lose her ring as Jerry steals it because he wants a...disco-ball thing in his tiny apartment? Kayla volunteers to catch Jerry, who can write and knows English and is obviously sentient--not that this stops Kayla from wanting to murder him. Let's be honest, we all want to murder Jerry. Kayla "hires" Tom to kill Jerry, further infuriating Terence, who is learning the hard way that his job in this world is to be consistently humiliated and devalued by his idiot boss (Rob Delaney). Oh, Terence also gets the job of taking Ben's dog for a walk when the dog, voiced by Bobby Cannavale, needs to take a giant burrito shit while Kayla is pulled into the inner circle at Terence's expense. All of this is seen as justified because Kayla is adorable. I think Tom and Jerry is teaching a really invaluable lesson to our kids, it's just that the lesson is different depending on your race and class. There's also a neurotic Chinese head chef (Ken Jeong) whose "money" scene is him trying to kill Jerry and destroying the cake he's been working on throughout this benighted shipwreck. How does it end? Does it actually end? The characters of Tom and Jerry have already been pinioned exquisitely by "The Simpsons"' "Itchy & Scratchy" gags, so this bloated burlesque that decorates the margins of an altogether-unpleasant fable about race, class, money, and the service industry functions as unintentional commentary on how broken and incompatible everything has become. Yes, it's awful. And you're playing into its hands if you don't interrogate exactly why it's awful. It's awful because it thinks you'll want to feed this to your children. It's awful because it's probably right.