Late in Lifetime's "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever" TV-movie, the cat that launched a thousand memes objects to a plot twist by asking, "Is this not my movie?"
The film (it debuts Saturday night at 8), written by "SpongeBob" vet and "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties" director Tim Hill (who also directed this) and Jeff Morris, seems at war with itself as to how much it should — or can — be Grumpy Cat's movie, and the answer is "not enough," unfortunately.
But at least the movie is aware of that problem, since it opens with Grumpy Cat (aka Tardar Sauce) — played in voiceover by Aubrey Plaza, in a piece of casting that feels like destiny — getting excited at the thought of how disappointed we'll be "when you realize this movie is just a sappy melodrama about me, Grumpy Cat."
Except it's only vaguely about Grumpy Cat, and primarily about Chrystal (Megan Charpentier), a lonely girl who hangs out at the mall where Grumpy Cat lives at the pet store, and who just wants a true friend for Christmas.
We open with about 10 minutes of pure, unadulterated Grumpy Cat, introducing the pet store and its collection of unlovable misfit animals, commenting on the different cliches in the movie and making fun of every second she's not on camera. (During a stretch where we meet several of the human characters, Grumpy Cat drowns out the dialogue by narrating, "Blah blah blah, B-story, B-story, not my line, not my line...")
But at a certain point, the film has to get into its actual plot, which involves Chrystal trying to prevent two bumbling musicians from stealing a valuable dog that could keep the pet store out of bankruptcy. (Grumpy Cat, when the dog's value is introduced: "That sounds like a MacGuffin to me — whatever that is.") Thanks to a Christmas wish come true, Chrystal can communicate with Grumpy Cat when no other person can, but there are large swaths of the movie that play like a super low-budget "Home Alone," or like a typical Lifetime/Hallmark Christmas film that occasionally pauses to let Grumpy Cat heckle it.
In fairness, turning a character like Grumpy Cat into the center of a movie, even one made for Lifetime, brings with it many complications — more than even trying to build a feature film around a one-joke "SNL" character. An animated movie would allow her to be more central to the plot, but would take away the actual Grumpy Cat. Do it in live-action — and without the money to hire Andy Serkis as a motion-captured Grumpy Cat for certain action sequences — and you are restricted by what you can get a differently-abled feline with limited mobility to do.
The result is "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever," which has some funny lines from Plaza while occasionally inserting Grumpy Cat into ridiculous situations (a paintball gun is involved at one point), but is mostly trying to do what it can within the limitations of its budget, its network and its leading feline. You'll probably laugh a few times, but within a half hour, you'll understand why there hasn't been a rush to make a Nyan Cat or David After Dentist film.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com