A “Cats & Dogs” sequel, nine years after the fact? Really? For reasons that may never be fully understood by us mere mortals, somebody convinced Warner Bros. to exhume the limp 2001 family comedy and deliver a follow-up, despite zero demand for one, not even from the original’s few fans. That film pulled in enough box office cake to earn, by Hollywood standards, a second round – but why wait so long? It’s not like the sequel’s writers (Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich, who previously penned “Open Season”) spent nine years polishing the script to perfection. (Instead, they filled it with predictable punchlines about butt-sniffing and fire hydrants.) By the time “Kitty Galore” hit screens, its target audience – and the rest of us, too – had forgotten the original ever existed.
Why not just ignore the hassle of a sequel and turn “Kitty Galore” into its own stand-alone project? After all, it’s not like “Cats & Dogs” owns the “animals are superspies in disguise!” concept; heck, “G-Force” is barely a year old. Would anyone have complained about a few story similarities to “Cats & Dogs” had “Kitty Galore” not bothered to strain itself to remind us it’s a follow-up? Is the “Cats & Dogs” name recognition factor really that valuable?
So cats are good guys now? Doesn’t that sorta miss the whole point? Did Warners get a pile of hate mail from cat owners furious to see their beloved felines treated as villains in a kiddie comedy? How else can we explain the “Kitty Galore” plot, in which dog spies and cat spies team up to defeat the titular rogue puss (voiced by Bette Midler)? This dilutes the entire premise of the franchise and turns the picture into a buddy comedy: rookie dog Diggs (Jason Marsden) and cat Catherine (Christina Applegate) bicker all the way to the point they learn about teamwork and friendship and the other usual kid flick/buddy flick tropes. There’s also a wise-cracking numbskull pigeon (Katt Williams, lucky enough to land all the film’s decent one-liners) for the sake of, I dunno, bird lovers.
What’s with the Roger Moore-era James Bond references? The plot is a dumbed-way-down spin on the rivals-team-up angle of “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Roger Moore supplies a bit role as cat commander Tab Lazenby. A metal-mouthed henchcat is named Paws. And the opening credits, set to Shirley Bassey’s cover of “Get the Party Started,” parody those lavish Bond openers. I’ll admit that I was delighted to hear Moore’s voice (even if his role was poorly written and instantly forgettable) and the credit sequence was a legitimate delight, the only real clever moment in the film. But are these bits designed to cheer up the parents who got dragged along? Silly in-jokes crafted to keep the crew entertained? I can’t say they shouldn’t have been included, since it does show the filmmakers trying for something (anything), but it still feels as unnecessary as all those for-the-parents pop culture references crammed into movies like “Shrek.”
What’s with the “Silence of the Lambs” spoof? Completely unnecessary, meanwhile, is a labored send-up of Clarice Starling’s first meeting with a certain Dr. Hannibal Lector. (Yes, there’s a fava bean gag. Sigh.) This allows the writers to bring back Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), the baddie from the first film, in a quickie scene meant solely to remind us we’re watching a sequel, even though nobody who‘s not Sean Hayes remembers the character’s name in the first place. Parents will groan over the lazy jokes; kids will scratch their heads wondering what the hell’s going on. (“Mommy, why the white cat is wearing a muzzle?”)
What’s with talking animal movies and drug jokes? Earlier this year, “Marmaduke” showed us some tripping hippie dogs; now “Kitty Galore” delivers catnip-high cats who talk like potheads. While I applaud any attempt to teach children that potheads are laughable creatures, these jokes remain bizarrely out of place in this kind of movie. (To its credit, “Kitty Galore” does not end with an all-dog dance sequence.)
What’s with the awful special effects? Sometimes we get crafty CGI making the animals’ mouths move. Sometimes we get third-rate puppetry. Was no one paying attention?
Will Jack McBrayer ever escape the Kenneth typecasting? Poor Jack McBrayer, forever stuck as the clueless innocent. This time, he plays Kitty Galore’s owner, a dimwitted magician working at a chintzy carnival. McBrayer gives the role his all, injecting plenty of needed energy into the proceedings, but it still comes across as just another spin on his “30 Rock” character. I get the feeling the actor can do far more than what he’s been given, and I can’t fault him for riding the Kenneth gravy train to another nice payday, yet I think he might be on the way to becoming this generation’s Eddie Deezen.
Nick Nolte, huh? He’s taken over the role of veteran agent Butch, originally played by Alec Baldwin. He sounds drunk and stoned and pissed off throughout – in other words, he sounds like Nick Nolte. This is his third attempt at voice-over work in a family film lately (after “Over the Hedge” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles”), and you get the impression he just sort of staggered onto the studio lot one day and decided he was gonna do a little voice work in between the bourbon blackouts and the crew was too frightened to stop him.
Chris O’Donnell, huh? You know what? I like Chris O’Donnell. Not enough to watch him “NCIS: Los Angeles,” but enough to think he should’ve been making more movies instead of spending the past decade in some sort of post-“Vertical Limit” purgatory. Here, he’s relegated to the bookends of the film, playing the sort of vanilla role an unknown could’ve easily filled just as well. He’s Diggs’ cop buddy, a guy whose lone purpose plot-wise is to act all sad when Diggs goes “missing” (when he’s off doing spy stuff, the humans think he ran away) and get all happy when they reunite in the epilogue, by which time you’ve forgotten he was in the movie.
Paul Rodriguez, huh? He shows up in a cameo role as a demented car salesman. You can barely recognize him. He has only a couple lines of dialogue. He is never seen again in the film. I guess he owed someone a favor.
Fred Armison, huh? He shows up in a pre-credits sequence as a German scientist. You can recognize him just fine. He has a few lines of dialogue. He is never seen again in the film. I guess he owed someone a favor.
Just how much more of this lousy 3D post-conversion crap are we going to have to take? I do believe this question speaks for itself.
A new Road Runner cartoon – in CG animation? Whaaa? I will never begrudge a studio for delivering a pre-show cartoon short, even if it means Warner Bros. giving Looney Tunes another watered-down revamp. “Coyote Falls” is the first of three shorts scheduled for 2010 updating Wile E. Coyote and this speedy prey for a 3D computer-animated world. It has a few big laughs and a nice sense of slapstick timing but misses a just enough of that Chuck Jones magic to make it feel like an also-ran.