Cats and dogs working together. A sign of the apocalypse? No, a concept for a sequel. Nine years after “Cats & Dogs” fetched more than $200 million worldwide with its comic take on interspecies animosity, Warners is unleashing “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” a faster, funnier follow-up in which CGI-enhanced canines and felines effect a temporary truce to combat a common enemy. Decked out with even more impressive f/x than its predecessor — and, perhaps more important, readily available in 3D — this breakneck sequel could do nicely at the late summer box office.
Much like the 2001 original, the new pic imagines a world in which humans remain blissfully oblivious, but dogs and cats are anthropomorphic mortal combatants, armed with high-tech weaponry and space-age surveillance while locked in a secret, centuries-old battle. Canines who take very, very seriously their roles as man’s best friends maintain a global spy network to prevent felines from re-establishing their long-ago dominance over humankind.
According to the sequel, however, not all cats want to rule the world. (Which should come as a great surprise to most cat owners, but never mind.) Indeed, there’s even a feline-centric superspy network known as MEOWS (Mousers Enforcing Our World Safety) that’s dedicated to protecting humans.
Under normal circumstances, the two groups get along like, well, cats and dogs. But they’re forced to join forces when Kitty Galore (hilariously voiced by Bette Midler), an ex-MEOWS operative turned rogue after accidental fur loss, threatens to scramble the minds of canines, turn them against humans and leave mankind vulnerable to feline enslavement.
Like its predecessor, “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” is a live-action caper-comedy in which human actors are relatively unimportant players. Chris O’Donnell, the most prominent of the pic’s two-legged stars, appears infrequently enough as a San Francisco cop to suggest his entire performance was filmed during a weekend break from “NCIS: Los Angeles.” His character exists only to provide a smidgen of backstory for his four-legged partner on the K-9 corps: Diggs (voiced by James Marsden), an impetuous German Shepherd whose repeated screw-ups lead to his dishonorable discharge.
Diggs is sprung from the kennel and recruited for secret agentry by Butch (aptly gruff Nick Nolte), a grizzled op who needs help sniffing out Kitty Galore’s whereabouts. Neither canine is eager to cooperate with Catherine (Christina Applegate), a feisty MEOWS agent who’s also on the bad Kitty’s trail. But the natural enemies must become reluctant allies — and also accept Seamus, a jive-talking pigeon (Katt Williams) — when ordered by their superiors, eager beagle Lou (Neil Patrick Harris) and suave spymaster Tab Lazenby (Roger Moore).
That last bit, along with the jokey title, should give a fair idea of how much the pic is intended as a spoofy homage to James Bond. The tone is set during the opening moments, as “Goldfinger” thrush Shirley Bassey belts out a re-orchestrated version of “Get the Party Started” during 007-style credits. Helmer Brad Peyton and scripters Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich are obviously aiming to amuse grown-ups even while catering to kids, and they often succeed.
Real dogs and cats are effectively employed throughout most scenes, and the technology used to create the illusion of moving lips and purposeful body language is impressive. The occasional appearance of obviously mechanical quadrupeds somehow is not as disruptive as it was in the 2001 original.
Pic will be shown in most markets with a newly produced three-minute cartoon — “Coyote Falls,” featuring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote — that actually relies more heavily on 3D imagery. Better still, it’s pretty doggone funny.