Pet smarts

Movie: Cats & Dogs

Our Rating: 2.50

At once clever and shallow, "Cats & Dogs" pushes the pitched battle between felines and canines into James Bond territory. This film takes the expression "fighting like cats and dogs" literally (never assuming that peaceful coexistence is possible), and screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra provide a historical construct for this ongoing battle: In ancient Egypt, cats were the evil rulers who made people their slaves, until dogs rose up to help put humans on top. Now dogs are subservient protectors while cats plot to regain their lost status. So when daffy scientist Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum) creates a serum eliminating allergies to dogs, cats go on the attack mode to seize it.

One of the funniest conceits of "Cats & Dogs" is that animals must act the part around people, never revealing their true intelligence (or ability for human speech) before their two-legged masters. This is especially true of the sophisticated canine spy network, which aids the Brodys' protector dog, a beagle puppy named Lou (voice of Tobey Maguire), with high-tech gadgetry and a network of streetwise agents.

Director Lawrence Guterman moves the film along at a brisk pace, turning it up to breakneck speed during the elaborate fight sequences (the rapid-fire editing helps blur the transitions between the real animals, puppetry and computer special effects).

As in many spy movies, the villains of "Cats & Dogs" are way more charismatic than the heroes. A cuddly Russian blue kitten (marvelously voiced by Ficarra) who turns into a lethal feline enforcer is an absolute delight, and the fluffy white Persian (Sean Hayes) bent on world domination -- who suffers the indignity of being named Mr. Tinkles (Snowball better befits his physique and owner's profession) -- is Mr. Bigglesworth infused with the spirit of Dr. Evil. Even Austin Powers' canine grin couldn't compete with that.

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