- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

"Cats & Dogs," a farce about a neighborhood power struggle between domesticated pets, scampers around and begs — often at ear-splitting sound levels — for a massive display of moviegoing tolerance.

This showdown eludes the perception of humankind. The oversight is easy enough to believe when you observe Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins and juvenile Alexander Pollock as the token humans — an absent-minded, at-home allergy researcher called Professor Brody, and his family.

A new Brody pet, a frisky beagle called Lou, dubbed by Tobey Maguire, becomes an indispensable cog in a clandestine counterespionage network of pooches, evidently well-equipped to foil a despotic Persian cat called Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes of "Will and Grace," suggesting Nathan Lane as Caligula), who imagines he can reduce dogs to a humbler state of servitude and dependence by sabotaging the dopey professor's research.

What may sabotage the film is a misguided decision that complicated the presentation — and probably elevated the costs — without guaranteeing an irresistible dividend in entertainment value. Originally intended for a cartoon animation unit at Warner Bros., the project was revamped for a combination of live-action, puppeteering and digital trick-shot animation, in hopes of creating a wackier system of illusion with animals that appeared to talk and perform impossible slapstick stunts.

The initial sequences attempt to establish both the low angles and harmlessly emphatic gags that will predominate as Tinkles gets sneaky and the dogs close ranks. I suspect that everyone might have been more comfortable in a cartoon environment that updated the comic stomping grounds that used to suffice for Pluto and Mickey or Tom and Jerry or Tweety and Sylvester. A lot of seams show as "Cats & Dogs" attempts to interweave its methodologies.

Moreover, "Dr. Dolittle 2" has cleverly reached the summer marketplace first with a more relaxed and confident talking-animal gimmick. It doesn't work nearly as hard to generate an illusion of conversational snappiness while simulating small talk and wisecracks among the critters. It even has the advantage of letting at least one human, Eddie Murphy, in on the gag and the repartee.

Strident and overblown, "Cats & Dogs" emerges as the trick farce that struggles far too obviously to knock you silly with outrageous spectacle and exaggerated rivalry. Far from relishing the duel, it's easier to conclude that both Tinkles and the doggie underground have taken leave of somebody's senses, the sense of proportion in particular. Both are off the chart, and it would be preferable if they returned to a closer approximation of innate and instinctive behavior.

The funnier prospect: The dogs and cats aren't so much rivals as collaborators in an ongoing conspiracy to feather their domestic nests without arousing undue suspicion among doting pet owners. Momentarily, the filmmakers get onto this sort of joke. Sticking with it might have given them a sounder basis for a satisfying movie.

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