Like Dr. Seuss' 1957 children's book and the equally beloved 1966 animated TV special based on it, director Ron Howard's live-action "Grinch" ends up with the green-furred title character donning Santa's red and whites for a gift-plundering raid on Christmas-loving Whoville. Unlike Chuck Jones' animated version (which in retrospect seems a model of narrative economy at a lean 26 minutes), the long-winded feature "Grinch" sets up this finale with an hour's worth of material establishing, among other things, the childhood traumas that led to the Big G's bad people skills. There's also a tedious subplot about the feelings the Grinch (Carrey) still harbors for the town glamour queen ("Bowfinger's" Christine Baranski), as well as his old rivalry with Whoville's pompous mayor (Jeffrey Tambor from TV's "The Larry Sanders Show").
Howard ("Apollo 13") is an old hand at this kind of big, fluffy storytelling, but "Grinch" just about breaks its back bending over backwards to please every conceivable audience demographic. For the kiddies, there are the lavish effects, including makeup wizard Rick Baker's amazing work on the Grinch and the rodent-faced Whos. For adolescents and up, there's bodily function humor and the way Carrey mocks the proceedings at every possible opportunity ("Why am I speaking in rhyme?"). It's hard to deny the brilliance of his maniacal performance, but must even Dr. Seuss be reduced to a series of butt jokes? With amazing gall, the filmmakers also see fit to tack an anti-commercial-Christmas theme onto the season's most hyped commercial flick. Ho ho ho. Starring Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon and Taylor Momsen. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. Produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG for some crude humor. Running time: 104 min