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Movie Review

Cats & Dogs

Four-legged superspies unleash silly fun for the kids

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / July 30, 2010

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Very much the best part of “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore’’ is the new “Road Runner’’ cartoon that precedes it. It’s in 3-D, of course, and Wile E. Coyote and his eternal avian nemesis have been rendered in fleshed-out, “realistic’’ shadings. I prefer the flat pop colors of yesteryear, but in all other respects, the short’s a scream: fast, funny, impeccably timed, and as brutally obedient to the laws of Looney Tunes physics as ever.

The feature that follows stands to delight small children while probably causing their parents’ heads to cave in. In fact, it’s safe to say that with the release of “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,’’ civilization as we know it has ceased to exist.

There may be no more James Bond movies due to MGM’s ongoing financial problems, but this 3-D sequel is happy to step in with a title tune sung by Dame Shirley Bassey herself, a metal-toothed character named Paws, and a vocal appearance by Roger Moore, a.k.a. Bond No. 3. Does it really matter that the characters are domestic pets that have been digitally manipulated to talk, type on computers, and fly rocket jetpacks? If some of Hollywood’s finest talent can sign up, shouldn’t we knuckle under too?

Actually, “Cats & Dogs’’ grafts a “Lethal Weapon’’ story line onto its secret-agent structure, then throws in bits of “48 Hrs.,’’ “Silence of the Lambs,’’ “The Terminator,’’ and other films last ripe for parody in, oh, 1992. James Marsden provides the voice of Diggs, an enthusiastic screw-up of a German shepherd whose policeman owner (Chris O’Donnell) can no longer bail him out of trouble. It’s never made clear why, but Diggs is recruited by the secret dog underground to team up with canine special agent Butch (Nick Nolte!) on a mission to stop uber-villain Kitty Galore (Bette Midler!) from world domination. Or something.

Christina Applegate voices Catherine, a sleek cat superspy assigned to the team (to her and Diggs’s disgust), and comedian Katt Williams plays a dimwitted homeboy homing pigeon — a minstrel squab, basically, but the laughs are there. But who isn’t in this thing? Neil Patrick Harris as a home-office beagle, Moore as his feline opposite, Wallace Shawn as a ’fraidy-cat, Sean Hayes as Mr. Tinkles, a serial-killer kitty trussed up a la Hannibal Lecter.

Mr. Tinkles is obviously not a real critter but an animatronic stand-in — he’d fit right into an all-cat remake of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.’’ Other technical aspects of “Cats & Dogs’’ feel similarly grotesque: The characters have been so heavily digitized to make them appear to talk and perform stunts that they no longer seem like animals but hybrid movie mutants: poker-playing dogs stuck on the island of Dr. Moreau. The film’s 3-D is another of those awful post-production patch jobs that separate characters’ body parts into unconvincing pop-up-book planes.

And yet . . . and yet . . . “Cats & Dogs’’ does have its lunatic entertainment value. The filmmakers don’t throw away a single idea — good, bad, or cretinous — and they keep the story moving at a clip. More important, they understand that if you put a sweater and a pair of glasses on a beagle, we’ll sit there mesmerized like the easily amused primates we are. “Cats & Dogs’’ is the Lolcats of movies and I’m afraid it’s the future. I can has my culture back?

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

CATS & DOGS: The Revenge of Kitty Galore Directed by: Brad Peyton

Written by: Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich

Starring: The voices of James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate, Katt Williams, Bette Midler, Roger Moore; the soulless, dejected body of Chris O’Donnell

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 82 minutes

Rated: PG (animal action and humor)

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