In this adaptation of a popular 1965 children’s book, Javier Bardem, who is one of cinema’s greatest living performers, receives licks from a 2,000-pound CGI reptile that sings. Bardem makes you believe it’s really happening, too, because that’s the kind of acting muscle that he brings to the table, in even the most canned of productions. Every minute of the overlong Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile that does not feature him is worse off for it, and seeing that he’s only in roughly a third of them, it’s a bit of a struggle on the whole.
It’s how the big green beast croons its melodies that best distills the movie’s various disappointments—all failing Bardem’s admirable, nourishing commitment to transformative cartoon joy. Lyle, voiced by Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes, sounds auto-tuned and generic and is animated with a similar lack of imagination. Rather than embrace the unique possibilities that come with depicting a biped croc perambulating through a human metropolis, the production opted for bland photorealism. The look is not just uninspired, but also nudges the whole affair onto the wrong side of the dividing line between the endearing and the uncanny. The songs, seemingly written for unaired practice rounds of American Idol, don’t help any.
Had the movie embraced its creepier glimmers, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile may have been an appropriately horrific October release. Instead, it bears only the suggestion of such a thing and never finds distinction. None of this may matter to you if you’re merely looking for something to get your kids out of the house. In which case, you can stay awake for Bardem’s mirthful embodiment of a greasy vagrant showman grifter who lives in melodic defiance of his debtors and haters, and take a nap through the rest. PG, 106 min.