Judging from the theatrical trailers and TV ads, "Cats and Dogs" should have been a good movie. It should have been original, energetic, witty, and, most of all, a love letter to dog and cat lovers everywhere. But it isn't. A family movie that is too juvenile to impress adults (you know, the way the recent "Shrek" did), and far too meanspirited to be heartwarming or sweet, "Cats and Dogs" is a surprisingly ill-advised misfire that surely won't be garnering many devoted fans above the age of single digits.
The title says it all the film is a 90-minute battle between cats and dogs over world domination. Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes) is a beautiful, white Persian cat who everyone thinks is cute, but actually is the no-holds-barred leader of the feline population. When word gets out that he plans to steal the anti-dog-allergy serum that a human scientist (Jeff Goldblum) has created, it's up to the scientist's new puppy (voiced by Tobey Maguire) and his camaraderie of fellow dogs to stop the fiendish Mr. Tinkles.
Directed by Lawrence Guterman, "Cats and Dogs" is not particularly enjoyable, and it's only intermittent smiles are produced from the adorableness of the animals, rather than the dim-witted screenplay by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. Dull and by-the-numbers, there are no characters (human or pet) that gain our sympathies or that we grow to like, and the only creativity to be found is merely hinted by the overall premise of cats against dogs.
There is also an obvious bias over the dogs in the picture, all of which are presented as the "good guys." The cats, on the other hand, are scheming, manipulative, and nasty, so the movie doesn't even play fair. How are audiences able to have fun in deciding who to root for when the cats are so blatantly characterized as the villains? Aside from Sean Hayes' inspired voiceover work for Mr. Tinkles, the other animals are giant bores, including those played by such well-known thesps as Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, and Tobey Maguire.
The human cast is nearly non-existent, both in terms of screen time and development. Jeff Goldblum (1998's "Holy Man") must be down on his luck these days; how else can you explain him taking a wasted role reminiscent of Rick Moranis' in 1989's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," and then not even being any good? Elizabeth Perkins (2000's "28 Days"), as Goldblum's wife; Alexander Pollock (1999's "Resurrection"), as their son; and Miriam Margolyes (1999's "End of Days"), as Mr. Tinkles' annoying maid, are equally slumming it with parts that anybody could have played just as well, or better.
The frequent attempts at humor in "Cats and Dogs," including yet another riff on "The Matrix," are strictly amateurish, and aside from the clever first scene, no attempt even seems to have been made to take advantage of its ingenious storyline. Ultimately, the only mercy that is given to audiences unfortunate enough to end up in a theater showing "Cats and Dogs" is that it's only 90 minutes. Without an ounce of entertainment value, anything more would have, quite honestly, been torture.
©2001 by Dustin Putman