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'Cats & Dogs'

The truth is, Garofalo's great!

Cats and Dogs

April 30, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EST

From CNN's Carol Buckland

(CNN) -- For those of you who think "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" might be a nature movie or some nice animal flick for the kiddies, think again! "Cats and Dogs" is a cutely clever (cleverly cute?) retread of the ever-popular Cyrano de Bergerac plot. The twist: the "Cyrano" character is female.

Janeane Garofalo stars as Abby Barnes, a veterinarian who hosts a popular Los Angeles radio call-in show for pet owners. Abby's smart and spunky. And, although she's far from being a plain Jane, she's suffers from low self-esteem in the appearance department. This stems in part from the fact that she hangs out with a ditzy model named Noelle, who's played by the tall and tawny Uma Thurman.

One fine day, a charming English photographer named Brian -- played by Ben Chaplin -- phones up Abby's show with a unique doggy dilemma. (Would you believe, he's got a Great Dane on roller skates?!) She offers some cogent counsel.

He's smitten by her sass and sexy voice. She's intrigued by him, too, but her insecurity prompts her to resort to subterfuge. Specifically: she claims she's a thin, 5-foot-10 knockout. She then cons Noelle into pretending to be her while she hangs around as the faux Abby's buddy "Donna."

Yes, what happens next is predictable. It also becomes increasingly implausible as the story line unfolds. Still, it's quite enjoyable.

Cats and Dogs

Chaplin ("The Feast Of July") is appealing as Brian. He's rather a Hugh Grant type -- cute and self-effacing, hardly a stud muffin. But it's quite easy to believe both Abby and Noelle tumble for him.

Thurman gives a funny performance as the basically clueless Noelle. In a more "meaningful" film, her character might have seemed genuinely poignant ... or pathetic. Here, she's disarmingly endearing. (One aside: While Thurman is fine as a dim-bulb blonde, I much preferred her dark and dangerous in "Pulp Fiction.")

The scene-stealer is Garofalo, who you may remember from "The Larry Sanders Show" (she played a talent booker) and "Reality Bites" (she was Winona Ryder's buddy, the sarcastic Gap salesgirl). While she may not be glamorous in the movie star mold, this girl is irresistible. Garofalo cracks wise with flawless comic timing -- including putting the perfect spin on the punch line of a very well-written phone-sex scene.

Screenwriter Audrey Wells' script is nicely paced. I wish she'd explored the "friendship" between Abby and Noelle more, though.

Michael Lehmann's direction is affectionate and adept. He juggles the romantic complications quite amusingly. The edge he brought to "Heathers" (great flick except for the last 15 minutes or so) softened, which is a bit of a disappointment. But this film soars in comparison to that mega-turkey, "Hudson Hawk."

"The Truth About Cats and Dogs" isn't deep. It's basically a big screen sitcom. Still, thanks in large part to the talented Garofalo, it's a picture that's easy to cuddle up to.

"The Truth About Cats and Dogs" is rated PG-13. That's for language and "sexual" situations. The previously mentioned phone-sex scene is quite a turn-on. Overall, though, this is no more titillating than a lot of stuff you'll see on TV.

A good date movie. Likewise, an excellent "chick" flick for a ladies' outing.

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