I don’t know why it took them nine years to make a sequel to “Cats & Dogs,” an amusing but largely forgettable family flick that had domestic canines and felines running a secret war against each other. I don’t know why they made a sequel at all, other than that the first one was profitable. But “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” while hit-or-miss in the joke department, is a reasonably clever spoof of spy movies, with all the elements translated to the animal world. It’s good fun.
The idea here is that cats and dogs are mortal enemies in a battle for supremacy among humans, and that both sides have secret organizations and technology at their disposal. In this adventure, a loose-cannon police dog named Diggs (voice of James Marsden) is recruited by his species’ equivalent of the CIA to help stop a psychotic hairless cat named Kitty Galore (Bette Midler). Kitty plans to deploy a weapon that will make all dogs go crazy, which will cause their owners to get rid of them, which will enable cats to take over their share of the pet market.
The feline intelligence agency wants to stop the rogue Kitty, too, as her actions would upset the balance of power and violate the rules of war, or something. This leads to a rare truce between cats and dogs so the two sides can work together and thwart their common enemy. Diggs and his gruff veteran partner, Butch (Nick Nolte), are teamed with Catherine (Christina Applegate), a top feline spy. They receive intel from a stool pigeon — really, he’s a pigeon; get it? — named Seamus (Katt Williams). They also descend into a “Silence of the Lambs”-ish prison to seek advice from Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), the fiendish feline villain from the first “Cats & Dogs.”
Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich, a duo that also contributed to “Brother Bear,” “Chicken Little,” and “Open Season,” packed their rather short screenplay with as many pet-related jokes as they could. A good many of these are corny and forced, but more than a few made me laugh outright. Here’s Roger Moore as a cat named Tab Lazenby; here’s Neil Patrick Harris as the button-down beagle who runs the dogs’ intelligence office; here’s “Goldfinger” chanteuse Shirley Bassey delivering a 007-ish cover of Pink’s “Get the Party Started” over the opening credits. And of course here’s Bette Midler camping it up as pretty much only Bette Midler can as the villainous Kitty Galore.
The film is mostly live-action, the animals’ faces digitally manipulated to make them talk. Good old-fashioned puppetry and newfangled CGI are also employed as needed; directed by Brad Peyton (his feature debut), the movie is a visual hodgepodge — basically, whatever’ll work, they use it. This attitude — as slick as possible, yet still not very slick — adds to the movie’s underdog (sorry) charm. It’s not part of a major franchise; it’s not based on a TV show; it doesn’t have any huge stars in it. And yet, against these odds, it succeeds as a modestly funny midsummer diversion. STOP READING HERE. It ain’t doggone funny, but it ain’t a cat-astrophe either. I WARNED YOU.
B- (1 hr., 22 min.; )