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'Cats & Dogs': Fffffffffffft!

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 4, 2001


    'Cats & Dogs'
Tinkles the Cat speaks in "Cats & Dog."
(Warner Bros.)
"Cats & Dogs" may be a fitfully amusing inter-species spy parody, but the premise is tragically flawed and politically incorrect. In fact, it is blatantly cat-ist. The filmmakers, obviously clueless regarding felines, would have us believe that cats are trying to take over the world when everybody knows they already rule.

Should real-life dogs precipitate a war between the pets, as they do here, cats would laugh into their whiskers, for they have nothing but contempt for those butt-sniffing, hydrant-hiking, tire-chasing sycophants. Cats fight cats. Who doesn't know that?

Nevertheless we are willing to suspend disbelief and accept the premise that cats and dogs have kept an uneasy truce since they began cohabiting with humans – dogs because they are needy, cats because they have yet to master the can opener.

The story, simplistic enough for the kiddies, gets underway when a shepherd is catnapped by henchmen of Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes), a Persian megalomanicat out to keep Jeff Goldblum's absent-minded professor from developing a serum that would suppress allergic reactions to dogs.

The dogs, who have developed an intelligence network to rival the CIA (not that it would take much), get wind of the plot thanks to Butch (Alec Baldwin), a crack canine operative who is saddled with Lou (Tobey Maguire), an adorable beagle puppy new to espionage, and aided by Ivy, a world-weary Saluki (Susan Sarandon).

The opening sequence, a slapstick chase scene, is undoubtedly the movie's best because it takes the animals' natural behavior into consideration. After a long sprint, a dog finally manages to chase a cat up a sapling, which the pooch uses to catapult the kitty into the dog's owners' kitchen. There follows an extended version of the Polaroid commercial in which the cat knocks over the trash and the dog takes the blame.

First-time director Lawrence Guterman and debuting writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra supply fun sight gags and dog-savvy situations, but they don't take full advantage of felines' imperious territoriality, finicky eating habits and obsession with cleanliness. These dogs drink from toilets, but there's not so much as a litter box joke.

Ultimately the filmmakers have relied on premise rather than plot, and the device wears out despite the spoof's brevity. The human characters – Goldblum, his wife (Elizabeth Perkins) and their son (Alexander Pollock) – are just props for the animals. And with the exception of the beagle, the critters, with their clumsily computer-generated expressions and badly executed puppetry, aren't cuddly. They're kind of creepy.

"Cats & Dogs" (87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for fire hydrant humor.


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