Cats & Dogs Movie Review
Why do so many boy-and-his-dog type kiddie movies have a scene at the end in which it looks as if hero hound has died, only to have the critter spring back to life after half the kids in the audience have started crying?
Do moviemakers get some kind of twisted kick out of messing with the wee ones' heads?
No doubt it doesn't do any permanent damage, but this complaint occurred to me during just such a scene at the end of "Cats and Dogs," a fairly formulaic CGI-enhanced live-action adventure of slowly diminishing fun about a secret, millennia-long feline-canine war to take over the world.
Cats, you see, used to rule the planet as ruthless slave masters. That's why the ancient Egyptians worshiped them, don't you know. But dogs helped humans take over a few thousand years ago, thus becoming man's best friend. Modern humans are, of course, completely unaware of any of this. We don't even know cats and dogs can talk.
Now, in an idyllic white-picket-fence suburb, a fluffy, white, power-mad Persian kitty named Mr. Tinkles (voice of "Will and Grace's" Sean Hayes) has become bent on his species conquering the globe again! Meow! Fffft! Fffft! And the only thing standing between him and world domination is an underground band of espionage agent doggies and their newest recruit, a Beagle pup named Lou (voice of Tobey Maguire).
Lou belongs to a family headed by a mad scientist father (an ideally discombobulated Jeff Goldblum) who is working on a formula to prevent dog allergies in humans. The cats want the formula so they can reverse it and make all humans allergic to dogs, thus turning everyone into -- da-da-duuuummmm! -- cat lovers by default.
Lou's still wet behind the ears, but he's the dogs' only hope, so a top agent German Shepherd named Butch (Alec Baldwin) takes the kid under his wing and introduces him to the clandestine high-tech world of canine counterintelligence.
In "Cats and Dogs," doghouses hide fancy-dancy satellite uplinks and computer equipment, collars contain communicators, and underneath alley trashcans are high-strung Chinese hairless mutts surveying the neighborhood for unfamiliar felines with super-gadget tracking equipment.
Directed by Lawrence Gutterman, a first-time helmer who has helped produce video games and did second-unit stuff on "Antz," "Cats and Dogs" milks this wacky spy-critter concept for some pretty great laughs in the early going, playing off such genre clichés as the park bench briefcase swap. In this movie it's two dogs who nonchalantly pick up each other's bones -- which, of course, are hollowed out to carry top secret booty.
The cats have their gizmos too. A cute, "lost" little kitten cutely purrs his way into the heart of the mom (Elizabeth Perkins) in Lou's household, only to barf up a hairball containing a first strike payload: Fake dog doo that gets Lou in trouble. The cats also have an army of ninjas, who help Gutterman cram a few martial arts flick spoofs into the proceedings.
But the movie's set-ups are its best payoffs, and the closer the plot gets to resolution, the more it reveals its unoriginal underbelly of stock children's flick conventions -- like the fact that Lou has to learn What's Really Important In Life is bonding with the mad scientist's 10-year-old boy (Alexander Pollock). This is what leads to the aforementioned, audience-baiting undead dog finale.
Although the humor in "Cats and Dogs" dwindles significantly through the course of the picture, it's still good quality kiddie fare and well worth the price of a matinee on a hot summer's day.
Voices for the well-rendered computer-augmented animal players include Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile"), Joe Pantoliano ("The Matrix," "Memento"), Susan Sarandon, Charlton Heston, and Jon Lovitz as Mr. Tinkles whiny and inept sycophant sidekick.
But it's Hayes who steal the show as Mr. Tinkles (with a nod to the CGI guys who make the fluffy critter so hilariously menacing). The maniacal lap cat of a comatose millionaire with a Christmas tree flocking empire (another touch of bizarro humor), Tinkles spouts lines like "This is the address where you are to enact my fiendish plan!" with Hayes' trademark over-the-top touch, which by itself is enough to send most kids (and many adults) into peels of laughter.