DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT — * — Mike Myers, Spencer Breslin, Dakota Fanning, Kelly Preston, Alex Baldwin, Sean Hayes, and featuring the voices of Hayes, Dan Castellaneta and others; rated PG (slapstick violence, vulgarity, mild profanity); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

Why film "The Cat in the Hat?"

The thought is all wet

And the jokes are not funny.

But that won't stop it

From making lots of money . . .

On second thought, it's not even worth the effort to pan the movie version of "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" using Seussian-style rhyming. After all, the film invests very little of its own time trying to get into the spirit and tone of the classic children's book.

The movie does do one thing right — it makes you want to re-read the book . . . to remind you of what clever entertainment for kids is really like.

Obviously, it's not this excruciatingly unfunny live-action comedy, which pads out Theodor S. Geisel's slight but charming original material by throwing in a variety of low-brow, low-wit gags — some of which seem racially insensitive.

The film also features two of the least sympathetic child performances in recent memory, by Conrad and Sally Walden (Spencer Breslin and Dakota Fanning, respectively), two children who have been left at home by their mother (Kelly Preston), a hard-working real-estate agent desperately trying to impress her boss (Sean Hayes, who also doubles as a voice performer).

While control freak Sally wants to tow the line, rule-breaker Conrad wants to run wild. And it appears the latter is going to get his way, since the title character (Mike Myers) shows up and promises oodles of fun.

However, that may lead to even bigger problems, since their mom needs the house to be clean for an open house that evening. And her new boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) is just looking for an excuse to get her to send the insolent Conrad to a military school.

As imaginative as some of the set designs are, first-time filmmaker Bo Welch squanders them, as well as several opportunities for more clever — or at least higher-minded — bits of comic business.

He also encourages all of Myers' worst instincts. At times, Myers appears to be aping Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion or simply reprising his "Wayne's World" character. Either way, he's never been quite this irksome before

And, as mentioned, neither Breslin nor Fanning's characters are very likable. In fact, you may find yourself rooting for Baldwin's bad-guy character to get his way in the end.

"Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" is rated PG for slapstick violence (mostly pratfalls and the like), crude humor (gags involving bodily functions, including flatulence, as well as some suggestive innuendo) and some mild profanity (curse words are alluded to). Running time: 82 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com