The whimpered warnings of impending danger that used to emerge from the likes of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and other celluloid canines pale alongside the high-tech heroics of Lou, the chatty puppy who takes on Mr. Tinkles, a megalomaniacal cat intent on achieving world domination for his species in Cats & Dogs.
This convivial (if overly busy) family film contends that: 1) animals can talk and 2) there is a war going on between cats and dogs, complete with sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment and complicated weaponry. Lou, a beagle puppy (voiced by Tobey Maguire, who sounds as if he's doing a Michael J. Fox impression), joins the fight after he is adopted by the Brody family. Lou is a replacement for the clan's longtime pooch who, unbeknownst to the Brodys, was dognapped by cats (driving a van bearing CATZRUL vanity plates) at the behest of the nefarious Tinkles. Lou and his doggie pals must do their best to keep Tinkles from getting his paws on a formula that Mr. Brody (Goldblum), a scientist, is devising to cure humans afflicted by allergies to dogs.
Cats & Dogs will amuse kids for longer than it does adults and dog lovers more than cat fanciers. The movie is heavy on litter-box humor, and the chase and battle scenes eventually become repetitive. The animals are portrayed using a mix of real four-legged stars, animatronic puppets and computer-generated imagery. While the dogs come off more realistically than the cats, Tinkles (silkily voiced by Will & Grace's Sean Hayes), with his long white hair and pouting face, is by far the movie's niftiest creation. Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon effectively lend their vocal talents to a couple of canine characters, but the human stars have little to do besides coo over their cute, befurred costars. (PG)
Bottom Line: Collars modest laughs, but mostly for pups
Jet Li, Bridget Fonda
If action counts more than words, Kiss of the Dragon is a heck of a film. Filled with one bone-crushing, neck-breaking martial arts battle after another (complete with gruesome sound effects), this violent thriller allows Asian star Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4) to do what he does best: whup folks senseless. If, however, one measures a movie by character development, depth of story and sprightliness of dialogue, Dragon is belching pure ash.
Li plays a top Chinese cop who comes to Paris to help the French police nail a Chinese drug smuggler. The lead local officer on the case (Tchéky Karyo) turns out to be heinously corrupt, and soon Li is on the run, fearing for his life. He teams up with Fonda, stuck in the woefully ridiculous role of a small-town North Dakota girl who, under Karyo's sway, has turned junkie and prostitute in Paris. Li, looking diminutive but tough, mostly confines his speeches to one and two words, while Karyo substitutes yelling for acting. (R)
Bottom Line: Miss this Kiss
Daniel Auteuil, Gérard Depardieu
Auteuil, accountant for a condom manufacturer, is about to be passed over for promotion and eased out of his job. He is bland and colorless, and no one is sad to see him go. To save his career, he doctors a photo of two patrons of a gay club—pasting his own head on a guy with his derriere exposed—and sends it anonymously to the company. The trick works: Auteuil has not changed one jot, but perceptions have. When he enters his office with his face shyly turned away (he looks like a pigeon expecting to be shooed from a ledge), a colleague interprets the glance as sly. Overnight, he's exotic.
This little farce—shiny, tidy and trite—would be completely disposable if it weren't for Depardieu. He plays a macho personnel manager who has a breakdown when he tries to "sensitize" himself toward the new Auteuil. It's as if a mountain of rock were to sink down into a valley of trees and flowers, so complete is his transformation. (R)
Bottom Line: Open-and-shut trifle
This French-language import is a model of how to film history—a thorny, bloody chapter in history, at that. Lumumba, about the short life of the Congo's first prime minister after independence from Belgium in 1960, is slashingly sharp and swift (115 minutes). The complex, ever shifting drama, while by no means simplified, plays out with the precision of chess moves. And Ebouaney is laser intense in the title role.
Patrice Lumumba saw his vision of a united, democratic Congo blur beyond recognition during his two volatile months in office. The copper-rich province of Katanga seceded, with backup from Belgium. The military, eventually controlled by former ally Joseph Mobutu, was unstable and unreliable. The American government, alarmed when Lumumba sought Soviet help to control Katanga, wanted him gone. Pushed out by a disintegrating government, he was murdered in Katanga in 1961 at age 35. His body was hacked up and burned by Belgian soldiers. Congo, renamed Zaire until 1997, was run by the despotic Mobutu for 32 years.
That's a mere sketch, a few dry facts. Lumumba gives you the whole living canvas. (Not rated)
Bottom Line: First-rate African history lesson
>A.I. A boy robot (Haley Joel Osment) searches for the secret to becoming "real." This mysteriously beautiful fairy tale for adults is director Steven Spielberg's most deeply felt film. (PG-13)
Dr. Dolittle 2 Eddie Murphy again talks to the animals, including a showbiz bear. As the owl says: a hoot. (PG)
Jump Tomorrow Artfully shot, refreshing little romantic comedy about a buttoned-down Nigerian-American who loosens up during a road trip with a free-spirited Spanish woman. (PG)
Our Song Small, richly compelling drama about three teenage girls in Brooklyn and how their lives change, quietly but dramatically, over a period of just a few weeks. (R)
Pootie Tang This fitfully amusing comedy about a gibberish-speaking superfly crime fighter named Pootie Tang (Lance Crouther) never transcends its roots as a sketch on HBO's The Chris Rock Show. (PG-13)
Sexy Beast Ben Kingsley is brilliant as a jumpy bad guy in a dilly of a gangster thriller set in sunny Spain. (R)
- Tom Gliatto.
Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins