June 28, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Postcard size paintings authenticated by art historians reveal that dogs make good poker players and cats make excellent physicians. But that’s nothing: In the fanciful comedy Cats & Dogs, a formidable arsenal of puppets and live animals have been assembled, with the assistance of computer imaging, for the express purpose of demonstrating that, beneath all the benign animal activity, a battle for world supremacy has been brewing. How long canines retain their edge as Man’s Best Friend depends on whether a power crazed feline named Mr. Tinkles (voiced by ”Will & Grace”’s Sean Hayes) can rally his cat troops to stage a coup, infecting humans with dreaded dog allergies.

The lighthearted silliness of this premise is advanced by the impressive technical work of director Lawrence Guterman (a production alumnus of ”Antz”) and his team, grown men and women working long and hard to make mecha and orga cats and dogs speak with their little mouths and perform martial arts feats with their little paws. The actors voicing these four legged adversaries — heavy hitters including Tobey Maguire, Susan Sarandon, Joe Pantoliano, Charlton Heston, and Alec Baldwin still emitting gusts of ”Pearl Harbor” bluster — throw themselves into their work with suitable fervor.

There’s just one problem: The plot and script sag like worn out chew toys just when ”Cats & Dogs” should be in full squeak. Not only isn’t this ”Babe,” it’s not even ”SNL”’s Toonces the driving cat. Poker among this pack, it turns out, makes for a rather tame night out.

type
Movie
Genre
mpaa
PG
runtime
86 minutes
director
Larry Guterman
Cast
Michael Clarke Duncan,
Joe Pantoliano,
Elizabeth Perkins,
Alexander Pollock,
Studio
Complete Coverage

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