Cats & Dogs

A bland variation on Joe Dante's Small Soldiers, Cats & Dogs uses computer animation, robots, puppets, and animal actors to create an unconvincing world in which cats and dogs not only wisecrack and cajole, but also conduct a secret war against each other. But too much technology can be dangerous, and Cats & Dogs' mixture of real animals and high-tech proxies is often distractingly inept. Directed by newcomer Lawrence Guterman, the film stars Alexander Pollock as a soccer-loving suburbanite whose dog (voiced by Tobey Maguire) becomes involved with a group of talking, technology-loving canine special agents determined to prevent cats from stealing a dog-allergy vaccine invented by Pollock's dad (Jeff Goldblum). The idea of a secret war between cats and dogs has some comic potential, but co-writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra take the easy way out, eschewing satire and smart humor in favor of a John Hughes-like mixture of pandering sentimentality and frenetic slapstick. The filmmakers aim for the anarchic wit of a classic Warner Brothers cartoon, but they end up closer to Hanna-Barbera territory, complete with sketchy, recycled characters and questionable animation. The sole bright spot in a movie otherwise scrubbed clean of personality is Cats & Dogs' feline villain (effetely voiced by Sean P. Hayes), whose over-the-top nastiness hints at a smarter, darker film within, particularly after the cats enter into a devil's bargain with some opportunistic mice. Unfortunately, Hayes and company don't clock anywhere near as much screen time as the heroic but forgettable dogs—or, for that matter, Pollock's bland family, headed by cinema's umpteenth loving-but-distracted dad, a part so exhausted that not even a gifted ham like Goldblum can do anything with it.

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