Furry Warfare Good for Laughs
Imagine Mel Gibsonís The Patriot with dogs playing American colonists and cats portraying their British foes. Throw in slapstick comedy to replace violent battle scenes. Add a few high-tech spy gadgets and hordes of brainwashed mice. Voila! Itís Cats & Dogs, a summer movie treat for the whole family. While not as effective as Chicken Run, last yearís hilarious poultry remake of The Great Escape, this live-action comedy worked for me --- despite lackluster performances by its three human actors.
I took two young cat lovers to see Cats & Dogs, so I wasnít surprised by their reactions to the filmís depiction of felines as diabolical villains. "How unfair!" one exclaimed. "Cats are better than dogs. Theyíre easier to take care of and donít need constant attention," the other chimed in. Still, I noticed both of them laughing during most of the movie, even in scenes showing dogs getting the best of their age-old enemies.
How could anyone not laugh at deadly ninja cats foiled in their mission to destroy a scientistís laboratory? Or when a cuddly kitten suddenly switches into Terminator attack mode? Or at a gorgeous white Persian who imagines himself as the mastermind of world domination? ("Genghis Khan never wore a bonnet," the maniacal Mr. Tinkles complains while being dressed in a ridiculous costume by his human caretaker.)
Being a dog supporter myself, I cheered on the heroic canines in their efforts to stop power-mad Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes of Will and Grace) from taking over our planet. Beagles have always been a favorite breed of mine, so "Lou" (voiced by Tobey Maguire from Wonder Boys), a wannabe Secret Agent, had no trouble stealing my heart. With his big brown eyes and floppy ears, that little puppy charmed me in every scene. And Maguireís youthful voice seemed perfect for Lou, the filmís main character.
Thrust accidentally into a family to protect the fatherís research on allergies to dogs, Lou soon bonds with the professorís son (Alexander Pollock) and wins the motherís (Elizabeth Perkins) affection. But, even more important for the future of manís best friend, he also meets secret operatives in the canine cause. Thereís a German shepherd (voiced by Alec Baldwin) who teaches him the ropes, a mysterious maternal Saluki hound (voiced by Susan Sarandon), a Chinese hairless electronics expert (voiced by Joe Pantoliano), and a sight-challenged sheepdog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan). Iím amazed at how well each actorís voice coordinated with the personality and expressions of the animal portrayed --- awesome, just like in Babe!
Unfortunately, as the human family, Goldblum, Perkins, and Pollock show little enthusiasm for their roles. Goldblum and Perkins add nothing to the stereotypes of the absent minded professor and his long-suffering wife, and Pollock (Replicant) failed to convince me of any genuine concern for his pets. (Just looking out into space doesnít cut it.) Goldlblum (Jurassic Park) licks a dogís nose, develops hives from the contact, misses his sonís soccer event --- but has the same quizzical look for each situation. Perkins, so delightful as Tom Hanksí love interest in Big, delivers her lines like a member of Robomoms, Inc. She punishes a puppy or encourages her son with the same nonchalant expression.
Am I being too harsh? Did these actors realize their performances, no matter how fine, would be overshadowed by such photogenic animals and just give up? Perhaps. For, make no bones about it --- this movie belongs completely to those incredible Cats & Dogs.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG" for animal action and humor.)