Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by Michael Lehmann. Written by Audrey Wells. Photography, Robert Brinkmann. Editing, Stephen Semel.Production designer, Sharon Seymour. Music, Howard Shore. Cast: Uma Thurman (Noelle), Janeane Garofalo (Abby), Ben Chaplin (Brian), et al. A 20th Century Fox release. 96 min. Rated PG-13
The title is catchy. It is actually the name of a call-in radio program that's the best part of the film. It is hosted by Dr. Abby Barnes, a veterinarian who handles questions (often funny) with aplomb, intelligence, imagination and humor. Jeanene Garofalo is charming in this role. You can see why her listeners like her and why one of them, Brian (Ben Chaplin) is so taken with her.

Brian is British, a freelance photographer who makes fine pictures. But art does not pay while commercial publicity photos do. Brian's attempts to snap a dog, a Great Dane on roller-skates, are quite amusing.

When he calls in to say "thanks for your advice," and offer to meet Abby for a drink, she loses her composure. While professionally cool and authoritative, Abby is personally insecure about her looks. A victim of modern society's cult of certain stereotypes of female beauty, she thinks of herself as something like a dumpy, un-chic, unappealing brunette, perhaps a 2 on a scale of 10.

What with the emotion caused by Brian's call (and his English accent), she describes herself to him as a beautiful tall blonde. This fits her neighbor and new friend Noelle (Uma Thurman) a professional model that is being pushed around by a disgusting boyfriend. She towers over Abby, in size, not little gray cells.

Hoist by her own petard, Abby gets cold feet and has Noelle impersonate her with Brian. Noelle is something of a dim-bulb and, frankly, Brian's I.Q. does not impress me - especially since he has long phone calls with Abby, calls that reinforce a mutual attraction. This situation is more than improbable, as Abby and Noelle don't sound at all the same.

The impossiblities that follow have occasionally entertaining moments, if, that is, you suspend disbelief one hundred percent. The film's mood is pleasant , but the development is slack, coming to life when Abby is at the station's microphone. Some good bits are too thinly spread around the movie's 96 minutes.

Sometimes the story reaches a soporific level. There used to be sentimental flicks that moved the audience to tears, films called two or three-handkerchief movies. "Cats and Dogs" is a two or three espresso picture.

The switch of identities has made every reviewer mention "Cyrano de Bergerac." The resemblances are superficial. The film's logic holds no water: Cyrano whispered to the handsome but un-smart Christian sweet words that Christian passed on to Roxane, in his own voice.

The substitution of one person for another can be found in many a stage-play or film. What set "Cyrano" aside was less its plot than its poetry. "Cats and Dogs" is far too prosaic.

The picture is also predicated on a number of false issues. One is that Garofalo is an ugly duckling, which she is not, and Thurman a raving beauty, which she is not. Another presupposes that Abby never had a pass, live or by phone, made at her, which is surprising. Then we have the cliches about blondes: the Dumb Blonde; "Gentlemen prefer blondes" ("...but marry brunettes"); etc. The movie might have explored the notion of "Gentlemen prefer Blands," the male mistrust of female brains. It doesn't.

What carries the picture somewhat are certain dispersed gags, the animal jokes, and especially Garofalo. I know Garofalo only from her efficient, abrasive persona in "The Larry Sanders Show," and from what I caught on TV recently: an unfunny, coarse stand-up appearance based on a whole mess of insecurities. The overall impression until now was that Garofalo is like a pocket battleship. In the movie, however, her mix of sweetness, fears and intelligence gives her a likable, rounded personality.


Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel