Hiss, growl: Two paws down
By Dan Kois
Friday, July 30, 2010
The best part of "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" happens before this derivative family film even begins. It's the Looney Tunes animated short, "Coyote Falls," that precedes the movie.
The 6-year-old next to me, like nearly every child in the theater, shrieked in delight and gasped in wonder as Wile E. Coyote was smashed, flattened, run over and blown up in an enormous fireball. (All in 3-D!) For kids raised on the nonviolent, chipper children's entertainment of Nickelodeon and PBS Kids, the first Road Runner cartoon they've ever seen delivers genuine entertainment catharsis.
Nothing so exciting happens to the audience during the main feature, alas. Plagued by cheap-looking special effects and a crummy 3-D conversion, "Kitty Galore" leans heavily on its only real asset, the natural cuteness of its fuzzy stars. It also negates the one truly fun thing about 2001's "Cats & Dogs" -- the comic mileage it got out of the age-old rivalry between humankind's two favorite house pets -- with a gloppy peace-between-the-species plotline. Cats and dogs working together for the greater good? Woof.
The Kitty of "Kitty Galore" is a hairless feline with the voice of Bette Midler who is bent, natch, on world domination. Opposing her are an inter-species team of super-spies: a cat with the voice of Christina Applegate, and two dogs, Butch and Diggs (Nick Nolte and James Marsden). Butch is the old pro; Diggs is the unreliable rookie. The three are tasked with protecting a pigeon (voice of comedian Katt Williams) who has gotten hold of secret blueprints that could endanger Kitty's nefarious plan.
Or something. It doesn't matter. You already know everything that happens: the silly plot meant to appeal to tots, and the lame grown-up gags that pepper the movie, drawing wan chuckles from their parents. Yes, there are references to "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Lethal Weapon." Yes, there are fire hydrants. Yes, there's a ball of yarn that's actually a bomb. The only thing that might catch you by surprise is the waterboarding joke, although the surprise is not exactly a pleasant one.
Is it mindless fun for the kids in an air-conditioned environment? I guess, sure, but it's maddening how many details in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" are swiped wholesale from other stories. Not just from the spy thrillers to which the movie pays tribute (most ostentatiously with a debonair cat named Tab Lazenby, voiced by Roger Moore) but also from other, better children's entertainment. Look, it's that joke about dogs playing poker that "Up" did better! Look, it's the cyborg villain from "Wallace and Gromit!" Even Seamus the motormouthed pigeon seems plucked straight from the pages of author Mo Willems's far more charming book "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus."
And of course there's director Brad Peyton's poorly choreographed action sequences, which strive to match the antic heights of Looney Tunes shorts such as "Coyote Falls." Instead, "Kitty Galore" just provokes the kind of headache that poor Wile E. must suffer at the end of each day.
Contains animal action and humor.