So much work went into “Cats & Dogs,” and there’s so little to show for it. A very resistible movie made from what sounds like an irresistible premise, it proves one more time that it’s easier to make animals talk than give them anything interesting to say.
Animals do more than converse in “Cats & Dogs.” They engage in a nearly human range of activity as well as James Bond-type stunt work. It took more than 2,000 training hours to get just one of the film’s dogs ready for his close-up, and that doesn’t count the time spent utilizing the puppets and the computer-generated imagery needed to create fully rounded performances. The screen story, however, is nowhere near that ambitious.
Though in the real world cats and dogs are as likely to avoid each other as fight to the death (a lesson humans can’t seem to learn), the premise of “Cats & Dogs” is that a state of eternal warfare exists between the two species. Given that many people have a passionate attachment to one group or the other, dramatizing this struggle does not seem like a half bad idea.
But while the ad line coyly asks “Who Will You Root for,” the film itself, directed by Lawrence Guterman from a script by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, newcomers all, has come down so heavily on the canine side that cat lovers will not be applauding.
More of a problem is the air of leaden tedium the filmmakers have brought to the table. Irritating, childish and more frantic than funny, “Cats & Dogs” does manage some few pleasant moments, but they are not worth waiting for.
The action opens with an extended cat/dog battle that typifies the movie’s very standard, furniture-wrecking style of cartoonish slapstick. The fight ends with the dog spirited out of the neighborhood in a suspicious blue van with a “CATZ RUL” license plate.
That dog, as it turns out, was not an ordinary hound but a secret agent guarding the home of eccentric Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum), his long-suffering wife, Carolyn (Elizabeth Perkins), and their son, Scott (Alexander Pollock).
The professor, a pathetic, mad scientist with a distracted Gyro Gearloose look, needs protecting because he’s working on a vaccine that prevents human/dog allergies. The cats don’t want him to succeed for obvious reasons--or at least reasons this film considers obvious.
The team of neighborhood dogs protecting the professor without his knowledge is led by Butch, a no-nonsense Anatolian shepherd (voiced by Alec Baldwin). His cohorts include Peek (Joe Pantoliano), a Chinese Crested/electronics expert; and Sam (Michael Clark Duncan), a sheep dog whose main talent seems to be getting his hair in his eyes.
Joining the team quite by accident is Lou (Tobey Maguire), a pocket Beagle puppy that has a hard time keeping up. While Butch wants him to be all business, an iconoclastic stray named Ivy (Susan Sarandon) advises him that time spent having fun with Scott is just as important as making sure that dogs retain their hard-earned position as man’s best friend.
Trying to destroy what dogs have worked so hard to build is the evil Mr. Tinkles (an effective Sean Hayes), an imperious-looking white Persian cat determined to make his presence known to the world. Though silly humans attempt to dress him in clothing, Mr. Tinkles is adamant that “evil does not wear a bonnet.”
Some of the situations the cats and dogs get into are momentarily amusing, and getting animals to seem as if they’re really speaking is certainly not a small accomplishment.
But, in the final analysis, it’s amazing how little it matters what animals can be gotten to do on screen if what they can be gotten to do can’t be made at all involving.
With the human actors marking time at best (and that best is rare), “Cats & Dogs” becomes a series of expensive special effects in search of a scenario worth the price tag. If anyone had any doubts about what an extraordinary accomplishment the original “Babe” was, seeing this will put them to rest.
* MPAA rating: PG, for animal action and humor. Times guidelines: infantile slapstick.
‘Cats & Dogs’
Jeff Goldblum: Professor Brody
Elizabeth Perkins: Carolyn Brody
Alexander Pollock: Scott Brody
Tobey Maguire: Lou
Alec Baldwin: Butch
Sean Hayes: Mr. Tinkles
Susan Sarandon: Ivy
In association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment, a Mad Chance/Zide/Perry production, released by Warner Bros. Director Lawrence Guterman. Producers Andrew Lazar, Chris Defaria, Warren Zide, Craig Perry. Executive producers Bruce Berman, Chris Bender & J.C. Spink. Screenplay John Requa & Glenn Ficarra. Cinematographer Julio Macat. Editors Michael Stevenson, Rick W. Finney. Music John Debney. Production design James Bissell. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.
In general release.