'Truth About Cats & Dogs' Purrs With Good Chemistry

Inspired cast lends amiable glow to the otherwise lightweight comedy

Comedy teams come in every size and shape, from Martin and Lewis to the Three Stooges, but women have been sadly underrepresented in this category.

The closest approximation has been inspired casting for a particular TV show (e.g., "Laverne and Shirley") or movie project (e.g., "Thelma and Louise") that flourishes for a limited time and then fades into the show-biz sunset.

The same destiny may await Uma Thurman and Janeane Garofalo after "The Truth About Cats & Dogs" has its hour in the sun, but I'm hoping a sequel deal has already been signed so their characters can captivate us in at least one or two more pictures.

True, the movie doesn't boast a scintillating script, a bang-up supporting cast, or other accouterments that would chalk it up as a classic comedy. But its very shortcomings allow the chemistry between its stars to shine all the more brightly. At a time when explosive effects and Tarantino toughs are hogging the screen so greedily, their amiable glow deserves an extra round of applause.

Garofalo plays Abby, a radio veterinarian who advises her listeners on really difficult pet problems: how to get your dog out of his roller-skates after a photo session, for instance, or what to do if an over-friendly pooch has licked your skin until it hurts. It's the guy with the Great Dane on wheels who takes a romantic fancy to her.

But due to the sort of plot twist only Hollywood could believe, he confuses Abby with her new friend Noelle, who's prettier on the outside but a lot dimmer when it comes to books, conversations, and ideas.

The women respond to Brian's wooing in tandem: Abby handles the long phone calls while Noelle takes the in-person appearances. Which one will he settle down with when identities are no longer mistaken?

I won't give it away, but fans of romantic comedy will have little trouble guessing the answer.

Like the wedding that surely comes right after its closing credits, "The Truth About Cats & Dogs" combines the old, the new, the borrowed, and the blue.

The old is its love-triangle premise about two women, one man, and many coincidences on the way to a happy ending.

The borrowed is its specific story, a veterinarian variation on "Cyrano de Bergerac," which also features a tongue-tied lover and a friend with superior verbal gifts.

The new is its timely pairing of two actresses not hitherto known as first-rate team players. The blue is its occasionally off-color humor, stretching the PG-13 rating perilously far, especially during a phone-sex episode that continues a dubious trend currently exemplified by movies as different as "Girl 6" and "Denise Calls Up."

For viewers willing to tolerate its lapses of taste, though, the truth about "The Truth..." is that Garofalo and Thurman make it one of the season's most smartly acted entertainments - an achievement that's particularly proud for Garofalo, debuting as a feature-film star after years of secondary roles and TV work.

Thurman also makes a fine showing, discarding much of the bad-girl baggage she's accumulated in pictures like "Henry and June" and "Pulp Fiction." Ben Chaplin rounds out the cast as the befuddled man in their life.

Michael Lehmann directed the romp, showing somewhat more maturity than in his earlier comedies like "Heathers" and "Airheads."

Audrey Wells wrote the screenplay and Robert Brinkmann did the attractive cinematography. The name of the roller-skating Great Dane doesn't appear in the credits, but he definitely merits a doggie snack or two.

*'The Truth About Cats & Dogs' has a PG-13 rating. It contains vulgar language, sexual innuendo, and a fairly explicit phone-sex scene.

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