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The Truth About Cats And Dogs
Starring Uma Thurman, Janeane Garofalo and Ben Chaplin.
Directed by Michael Lehmann.

Abby (Janeane Garofalo) is a shlub. She's a successful radio talk show host, advising callers on the how to's of pet care (and it's a helluva lot funnier than it sounds). Abby has a killer sense of humor, but she suffers from low self esteem. Correction, non-existent self esteem. She's short and dark and dresses in nondescript shlubbery, lives for putting herself down (and putting down those who may be attracted to her), is fast approaching (it is hinted) forty and hasn't had sex in three years [Hang tight, Abby, after Three Years you don't miss it so much]. In toto, she's smart and has a great personality. And we all know what that means.

On the other hand there's Abby's friend and neighbor Noelle (Uma Thurman). She's a tall, skinny blonde model. The type that gravitates to California like bugs to one of those UL-approved devices that ZAPS em to death. The kind you see half naked in ads for motor oil. Noelle's boyfriend is also her manager, and he's a mangy mutt of a verbally abusive passes-for-a-man. But Noelle is a couple of bricks shy and doesn't get that he's bad news.

Then there's Brian (Ben Chaplin). A photographer who puts roller skates on dogs. As he discovers, dogs don't like that. A panicked call to Abby's radio show saves the day. Brian falls for Abby's voice and asks her out. Self-deprecating Abby says "yes," never intending to show, and describes herself as looking like Noelle. Next thing you know, Noelle is at the station at the same time that Brian shows up at the station and he, well, gets the wrong idea reinforced.

Brian falls for Abby but he thinks she's Noelle. Abby feeds lines to Noelle because she's too embarrassed to fess up. Noelle wants to fess up but Cosmopolitan Magazine says her boyfriend's a loser and Brian's got a great English accent and so on and so forth; targets set dead on to what used to be called screwball comedy.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs starts in overdrive from the word go. Garofalo's Abby is a stock character for her, refined from years of use on Garry Shandling's "The Larry Sanders Show." If you are unfamiliar with her work, get familiar. She has made the jump from small screen to large and carries into the character every bit of rejection felt by any person sitting in the audience. It is a sympathetic and very funny portrayal.

The dialog, from screenwriter Audrey Wells is brilliantly subversive and funny. The story in and of itself isn't new -- if you don't know Cyrano de Bergerac or Steve Martin's take on it, "Roxanne" -- but the situations Wells arranges, and the slapstick that seals the deal at the finale is tremendously entertaining.

This sounds like a balls to the walls rave, right? Nope. Let's go into the audience which, on a magnificent Spring Saturday here in New York, *packed* the theater. Parents and kids. Dating couples. And a lot of single women hanging out. And that's who Cranky talked with afterwards, since that's what the film is about. The general reaction?

"Cute, but I don't buy it"

When push comes to shove, Brian is dumber than a log. That he couldn't figure out the deception, which wasn't all that clever anyway, worked against the story. The reaction came down to, "who would want this noodnik?"

It's a minor negative in an otherwise positive set of circumstances. For Cranky, the sparkling, funny dialog in the first half hits a wall when the women decide to get drunk as skunks and see which one Brian would pick. That sequence is set to music and, though not cut like a music video, falls flat on its face. Visually, it does set a scene in which Garofalo is shown to be "prettier" than Thurman (let us not forget that beauty is in the eye.....) But it's awkwardly cut and far too long and kills the momentum of the story.

From that point on, though The Truth About Cats and Dogs attempts to regain its seriously screwball footing, it only half succeeds. Instead it settles for subtle preaching about Friendship v. Relationships and Good Looks v. Not So Good Looks (not meaning a heckuva lot over a long period of time.). Once the deception is revealed, the story fights valiantly for a happy ending.

When all is said and done, The Truth About Cats and Dogs is deserving of the strong buzz that circulated before the opening. It's a good date movie. Some of the comic situations are totally off the wall -- but I don't give that stuff away. The Truth About Cats and Dogs is definitely recommended.

Course I'd normally deduct a buck, cuz the writer missed some basic points -- AM talk radio formats don't play music and a major LA radio station isn't going to let *anyone* past the front desk, period. (I've worked stations both coasts from inside and out, and it don't happen.) And no one gets back to the studio area.

Then again this story can't function without that mistake, so I'll just mention it and move on. I guess I'm mellowing in my old age.

Blame the Buzz. Cineplex Odeon (the larger theater chain here in NY) followed Sony's lead and upped the prices. So. It cost Eight-And-A-Half Dollars for my ticket to The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Cranky would have paid.

$7.25

You should compare this rating against the old $8.00 watermark. There's nothing that's come out that's deserving of that extra half a buck.

Click to buy films by Michael Lehmann
Click to buy films starring Uma Thurman
Click to buy films starring Janeane Garofalo

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