'Cats & Dogs' proves to be a dog of a film

'Cats & Dogs - who will you root for?"

That's been an inescapable question for the past few weeks - popping up everywhere from multiplex posters to Internet sites, as hard to get away from as the movie it's promoting.

This made me suspicious. I like cats, and I like dogs. So why was Warner Bros. working so hard to make me choose sides? Was the studio simply spreading the word about an irresistible summer treat? Or was it trying to cook up an "event movie" that everyone talks about - and flocks to see even if reviewers bark, bite, and bare their fangs?

I trotted obediently to a preview, determined to keep my spirits high and my mind open. Perhaps this would be an amiable entertainment with a believable plot, amusing performances, and well-trained canines and felines to feast my animal-friendly eyes on.

My tail started drooping before the opening credits were over. Try as I may, I can't muster the tiniest little wag for this mishmash of a movie. The plot pants so hard to please all conceivable tastes - touching every base from "101 Dalmatians" and "Babe: Pig in the City" to "Chicken Run" and the "Austin Powers" pictures - that it makes far less sense than the average pet-food commercial.

Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist working on an anti-allergy medicine, but the real action centers on wicked cats who want to take over the world and resourceful dogs who want to save us all. (If you were rooting for cats when you saw those posters, be prepared to change your vote!)

The human acting is as convincing as the nonsensical story allows. The animal acting isn't acting at all, just a string of computer-enhanced stunts.

I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and pretend animals can talk, but there's no way I can believe in a pooch or kitty that behaves like a rubber-faced robot from some Hollywood special-effects lab.

So let's change the question of the day. Light-hearted summer fun or lead-footed commercial gimmicks - which should we root for?

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Rated PG; contains comic violence and vulgarity.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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