By Owen Gleiberman
November 19, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

In Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, Mike Myers speaks in a New Yawk accent of such nagging yet indiscriminate flavor that he seems to be doing half a dozen lame impersonations at once. Watching the movie, I kept wondering, Where have I heard that voice before? The blasé Brooklyn vowels are pure Linda Richman, the Streisand-worshipping ”Coffee Talk” matron Myers used to play on ”Saturday Night Live.” But there’s also a touch of the Cowardly Lion in his mockingly weary, mincing urban sighs, and also in his omnipresent laugh — a gassy, forced, scaredy-cat giggle that Myers coughs up like a hair ball each time he lets loose another groaner of a punchline.

”The Cat in the Hat” has been made in a hyperactive, kiddie-tech style that scarcely allows its title troublemaker to stay in one place for more than three seconds. Which would have been fine if he had the naughty, pinwheeling prankster spirit of, say, Robin Williams’ Aladdin or Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice. Instead, someone (Myers?) came up with the bright idea of turning the Cat in the Hat into the worst Vegas nightclub spritzer of 1958. He’s become a furry version of Rip Taylor: a walking, talking vaudeville idiot box.

”The Cat in the Hat” confirms that an elite new ritual now defines the upper power echelon of American movie comedy. It is no longer enough to be a genial slapstick slob, like Adam Sandler, or to create a beloved icon of doofy madness, like Ace Ventura or Austin Powers, or even to command a salary of $20 million. No, to ascend to the true loneliness of the tippy-top, a comedian must now squirm his way into a monstrously uncomfortable-looking fake fur outfit, making him appear stuffed if not mounted, all to deliver a laboriously gonzo yet literal-minded impersonation of a Dr. Seuss character in a holiday movie that makes the audience feel as if they’re having the ultimate bad day at Disney World.

It’s been three years since Jim Carrey did his costume-shop Seussian duty in ”How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and that movie, uninspired as it was, had the architecture of a good story line. ”The Cat in the Hat,” directed by former production designer Bo Welch (”Edward Scissorhands”), is all unhinged visual piffle; the look is Corporate Tim Burton, but the atmosphere is ”Home Alone” squared. And, oh, is poor Mike Myers ever working hard in it! As the Cat, he pays a visit to Conrad and Sally (Spencer Breslin and Dakota Fanning), who live on a block of what appear to be identically oversize, lavender Monopoly houses, and he introduces them to the joys of attention-deficit anarchy. He burps and flounces and gets beat on like a piñata. He turns into a matador, a Scottish TV chef, a dreadlocked hippie petitioner (the one time I laughed), and Carmen Miranda. He coats the walls and furniture with purple Flubberish goo. Through it all, he tells jokes so bad that even though they’re supposed to be bad (that’s the joke, you see), they’re really just…bad. ”Let me get this straight,” he says, of the children’s fat wonk of a babysitter. ”You pay!…this woman!…to sit on babies?” (Pause for punchline.) ”I’d do it for nothing!” Each time the Cat drops a gag like that, he laughs. Loudly. All by himself.

In the Dr. Seuss books, he’s always grinning, but it’s a happy, inviting leer: the friendliest force of disorder imaginable. Myers, his face encased in layers of padding that make him look like a marshmallow with teeth, is dutiful rather than joyful — an ironic cackling sourpuss. Then, too, there’s a pleasing, Dada serenity to the Seuss books — it’s there in the cockeyed lilt of the rhymes — that makes their demented high jinks seem a topsy-turvy form of common sense. As a movie, ”The Cat in the Hat” ditches the doggerel, but it’s stuck in candy-colored synthetic overdrive. Actors like Sean Hayes and Alec Baldwin go hysterical in their lime and purple business suits, and the children are messy, misbehaved brats who have already perfected their own brand of Anarchy in the USA. What do they need the Cat in the Hat for? He’s just one more annoying noisemaker in a universe of shape-shifting crassness.