It’s taken nine years for Warner Bros. to come up with a sequel to their 2001 hit “Cats & Dogs,” and “The Revenge of Kitty Galore” hardly seems worth the wait. It’s a canine-and-feline takeoff on the James Bond movies (the pre-Daniel Craig ones, that is), and as such seems more than a little out of date (Roger Moore voices one of the characters). But apart from that, it’s a rather tepid special-effects spy movie for kids, in the same vein as “G-Force,” if you’ll forgive the expression, and 3D doesn’t add all that much.
The hero is a genial German Shepherd named Diggs (voiced by James Marsden), a police dog cashiered from the force because of his recklessness despite the support of his human partner Shane (Chris O’Donnell). No sooner is he returned to the kennel than he’s recruited to join the doggie agency devoted to stymieing the efforts of cats to take over the world. Diggs is swiftly partnered with Butch (Nick Nolte) to track down Galore (Bette Midler), a hairless feline engaged in some dastardly plot against humans and canines.
There’s also a cat spy agency, MEOWS, whose agent Catherine (Christina Applegate) is also on Galore’s tail, as it were. Before long mutts and mouser have reluctantly joined forces and track down Kitty by identifying her owner, a hapless amusement park magician (Jack McBrayer). And after overcoming the obligatory obstacles they foil her scheme—to destroy the love between dogs and humans by transmitting a disruptive sound that will drive canines nuts world-wide. And they learn inter-species friendship in the process.
There are amusing moments scattered through the picture—mostly provided by Katt Williams as a spacey pigeon named Seamus that gets involved with Diggs and Catherine in their investigation (he’s obviously intended as the equivalent of Eddie Murphy’s donkey in the “Shrek” movies, and generally pulls it off)—but for the most part it’s an oddly flat, flaccid affair. You have to wonder what the constant Bond allusions will mean for the kids at whom it’s aimed—in addition to the presence of Moore, who voices the head of MEOWS (and is even named Lazenby, ha-ha), there’s a typical titles sequence, backed up by a vocal from Shirley Bassey, and Kitty’s final words to Diggs and Catherine as she leaves them literally netted in her trap are an obvious nod to “Goldfinger.” But even grown-ups in the audience are likely to find these cutesy homages tedious. More amusing is a bit involving Sean Hayes’ Mr. Tinkles, the sole holdover from the first installment, who’s given an Anthony Hopkins-Hannibal Lecter scene here, which adults should appreciate. But once again it will go over the heads of tykes.
The weakness of the material hobbles most of the voice performers, with only Williams coming across with the exuberance it needs (and probably ad-libbing a lot, too). Marsden and Applegate are bland and Nolte surprisingly nondescript; even Midler, whose oversized personality would seem ideal for this sort of thing, makes little impression. Undistinguished smaller contributions are offered by Neil Patrick Harris, Wallace Shawn and Michael Clarke Duncan, among others, and of the human performers O’Donnell seems to have phoned in his turn during sprints from his TV show and McBrayer mugs so furiously he’s more animated than the animals.
Visually, though, one has to praise the seamless coordination of live action and animation, and when animatronics are used (as in the case of Mr. Tinkles), their obviousness is made into a joke. You have to give credit to the effects team and to cinematographer Steven Poster for keeping the images clean and crisp under such circumstances. Unfortunately, director Brad Peyton seems to have been so obsessed with the technical side of things that he hasn’t bothered to inject much vitality into the proceedings. It must have been difficult to manage all the animal movement, but as impressive as the result is physically, it still comes across as rather lethargically paced.
Happily the feature is preceded by a new Road Runner cartoon which, though made via computer rather than in the old hand-drawn format, captures a good deal of the spirit of the old classics. It employs the 3D more effectively than “Cats & Dogs” does, and though it involves nothing more than an Acme bungee cord as opposed to all the technological gizmos of the movie, delivers more genuine laughs in just three minutes than the picture does in eighty-three.