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'Cats & Dogs'

'Cats & Dogs' battle goes way over the top

Wednesday, July 04, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

If you own one or more cats, you already know they rule the world. They just let you think otherwise. If they could operate can openers by themselves, they wouldn't even bother with humans.

The scheming felines in "Cats & Dogs" certainly have mastered other, more advanced forms of technology. They spit up hairballs that contain sophisticated (and sophomoric) forms of weaponry. They drive cars (not particularly well) and catnap dogs. They attempt to practice better living through chemistry. Can openers ought to be a snap.


 
 
"Cats and Dogs"

Rating: PG, for animal action and humor.

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, voices of Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire.

Director: Lawrence Guterman.

Critic's call:

   

 

But man's best friend also masters some pretty snazzy equipment in this movie -- surveillance computers hidden in doghouses and trash cans, underground rocket sleds, communicators attached to their collars. And all Lassie could do was whimper when Timmy fell down the well.

If it sounds like the dogs and cats have too many fancy toys to play with, blame director Lawrence Guterman and whoever let him loose with all those computer graphics that create the illusion of live-action kibitzing canines, kung-fu kitties and high-tech hairballs.

Guterman displays a knack for humorous sight gags and the timing needed to pull them off. He keeps things moving at a greyhound's pace without snarling the screenplay by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. "Cats & Dogs" manages enough amusing moments to keep both kids and their parents from straining at the leash. But the filmmakers don't know when to quit.

The action centers around the home of Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum), who lives with his wife, Carolyn (Elizabeth Perkins), and son, Scott (Alexander Pollock). Dad is the kind of eccentric basement scientist who would invent Flubber or shrink the kids (if he worked for Disney). He hopes to invent a vaccine that would cure humans of all dog allergies.

But this would upset the balance of power between dogs and cats. The felines, led by the monomaniacal Persian longhair Mr. Tinkles (think of Dr. Evil with fur), will do anything to prevent the development of the vaccine. The canines, led by an Anatolian shepherd named Butch, mean to protect the Brodys at any cost.

The pooch patrol gets a ringer when a beagle puppy named Lou accidentally becomes the new family pet. He is untrained (in the military arts, that is) and immature. But the dogs have no choice. Lou has pluck, at least, and a loyalty to his human family that will serve them well.

The opening scene consists of pure dog-chases-cat havoc as they knock over people and various breakable items. In each succeeding confrontation, the movie reveals a little bit more about the animals' technological (and anthropomorphic) capabilities.

By the time the dogs take us to their secret command center, which looks like a cross between the "Men in Black" headquarters and Bill Gates' playroom, it's clear the movie can't sustain this much folderol. The computer graphics work very well, but you can kind of see the filmmakers trying to draw inside the lines.

Goldblum and Perkins achieve a gentle silliness, while young Pollock bonds with beagle Lou to register a high score on the cute-o-meter. They're not the sharpest tools in the shed, but that's why we need the dogs to protect us.

So the voice actors get the best of the deal: Tobey Maguire as callow Lou, Alec Baldwin as world-weary Butch, Sean Hayes as the sharp-tongued Mr. Tinkles, Jon Lovitz as his right-hand cat, and Susan Sarandon, Joe Pantoliano and Michael Clarke Duncan as members of the canine corps.

Now, that's a bunch that makes going to the dogs seem worthwhile.

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