The negatives of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore are a bit too obvious, so perhaps it’s best to begin in a lenient mood of defense. This is a sequel that well surpasses the original, although if one takes into consideration the predecessor, that should set the bar for trumping pretty low.

The main reason for its comparative success (and I must emphasize that the movie succeeds only in contrast to Cats & Dogs and not, in any discernible, enjoyable way, on its own) is its willingness to catch up to high-tech, gadget-focused, action-sequence-oriented spy movies and crack a few slightly amusing, if obvious, jokes at their expense. This is, of course, opposed to the first movie, which took place in backyards and was more prone to jokes about the evident natures and behaviors of its titular animals. Dogs are man’s best friends and like to play catch, cats are evil, and blah, blah, blah.

Running with the premise of the original, dogs and cats can talk, and the canines run an underground intelligence agency that keeps an eye on the nefarious plans of their feline counterparts. Joining their ranks is Diggs (voice of James Marsden), a German Shepherd police dog who has had his last run-in with the captain after unintentionally blowing up a building during a hostage situation. (The captain is torn: There are four captives, but they’re all used car dealers.)

Lou (now voiced by Neil Patrick Harris), the Beagle hero of the original who is now in charge of the agency, thinks Diggs is agent material. Butch (now voiced by Nick Nolte) tries to reel him in, but cats are the only thing Diggs hates more than following rules. Meanwhile, the criminal mastermind Kitty Galore (voice of Bette Midler) has a plan to transmit a signal across the world that will turn all dogs into menaces, forcing humans to lock them up, and leaving the cats in charge.

In terms of parody, the movie has a few vaguely clever moments. In addition to the Bond reference intrinsic to the villainess, she also has a goon with a set of crushing, metal teeth named Paws (voice of Phil LaMarr). The head of cat intelligence is named Tab Lazenby, and he’s voiced by Roger Moore. So here’s a character named after one actor who portrayed 007 voiced by a different actor who did the same. They’re not revelatory comic touches, admittedly, but they are a kind of harmless fun.

The sequel is a bit more magnanimous toward its feline co-stars, presenting Diggs with a cat partner named — hold for the pun — Catherine (voice of Christina Applegate), with whom he shares a like/hate relationship (love would just push this into creepy territory, although a scene in which Diggs meets Cat’s nieces gets pretty close). As a balance, Mr. Tinkles (voice of Sean Hayes) returns, locked up beneath Alcatraz in a getup and with dime-store psychoanalysis that echoes Hannibal Lecter.

Clearly the problem is that the movie falls into the same, familiar trap of formula as its human-starring counterparts. It has the rebellious hero, the gruff authority figure, the tentative partner, and even the fast-talking and more-than-occasionally irritating comic sidekick (a pigeon named Seamus voiced by Katt Williams). All of these are present without the vaguest hint of the sly nudging accompanying the allusions for spoofing.

The humans are put in their right place on the sidelines. Chris O’Donnell shows up as Diggs’ partner, who tries to stop the dog from acting hastily, attempts to defend his position on the force, gets a phone call that he’s missing, and then spends one scene putting up posters and asking people on the street. Jack McBrayer plays Galore’s owner, a spastic magician who loves his pet too much to recognize her megalomaniacal scheming, and there’s a recurring gag involving a young girl who keeps seeing the animals at their most anthropomorphic.

While a step up from its predecessor, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore could never be mistaken as worthwhile entertainment. There’s still the problem that the jokes aren’t that funny, the premise and characters are still tired old things, and the special effects more often than not look like what one species leaves behind on a walk and the other drops off in a box full of clay. So, yes, it’s better than the first, but so what?

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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