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'Cats and Dogs': silliness unleashed

The premise is cute, the effects convincing. But in the end, this Mission: Impossible in fur seems like a missed opportunity.

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 5, 2001


The premise is cute, the effects convincing. But in the end, this Mission: Impossible in fur seems like a missed opportunity.

Only Dr. Dolittle could do less with talking animals than Cats and Dogs, a cinematic chew toy that starts cute and winds up mangled, sloppy and easy to toss away.

The idea is solid: the natural rivalry between canines and felines fantasized into a Mission: Impossible-style adventure with secret lairs, surveillance gizmos and a plot for world domination. The execution is often impeccable: Computer-animated mouths of live animals match human voices a la Babe, with facial expressions drawn for extra effect. Stranger pets, such as paratroop kitty ninjas, are created from scratch with keystrokes and animatronic puppets.

Cats and Dogs is convincing but doesn't have much of a point to make. The best sight gags are exhausted after an hour, and the plot gets stuck in one spot like a mutt digging into a flower bed. Subplots involving humans are merely time wasters, with Jeff Goldblum playing a workaholic dad, Elizabeth Perkins a doting mom and Alexander Pollock their mopey kid.

The animals, even with one-note personalities, are more interesting.

The action features henchcats and snooping hounds, all hooked up with James Bond gadgets that would make Q envious. But their missions are too cut-and-dried. Cats want to rule the world, and dogs want to stop them. Not even any double agents reduce the bad rap for cats. Isn't there an anti-feline defamation league somewhere?

All sympathies are with the canines, especially a cuddly beagle pup named Lou (voice of Tobey Maguire), who gets involved with the underground battle for supremacy. He's a new addition to the Brody household when dad (Goldblum) is working on a cure for allergic reactions to dogs. If he's successful, cats won't be as popular anymore. Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), a Persian that would be cozy on Blofeld's lap, plots to destroy Brody's work, and Lou is enlisted to protect it.

In its best moments, Cats and Dogs displays the breezy audacity of the Far Side comics, with animals barely tolerating human nature. Pets know what's expected of them, doing just enough to keep those pesky Homo sapiens off their backs. They also adopt familiar traits from spy movies being spoofed: a grizzled espionage vet (Alec Baldwin), the electronics ace (Joe Pantoliano) and a sleek Saluki female for window dressing (Susan Sarandon).

Director Lawrence Guterman devises a few memorable sequences: a bogus Egyptian history of cats told in hieroglyphics is funny, those ninja cats are cool and, with a few computerized dimples, a German shepherd is a dead ringer for Baldwin. Yet, compared with the recent Spy Kids, the idea behind this movie seems undeveloped.Cats and Dogs is silly enough to please but doesn't completely satisfy.

MOVIE REVIEW

Cats and Dogs

Grade: C+

Director: Lawrence Guterman

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Alexander Pollock, voices of Tobey Maguire, Sean Hayes, Alec Baldwin, Joe Pantoliano, Susan Sarandon, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz

Screenplay: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

Rating: PG: mild violence, crude humor

Running time: 88 min.

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