Directed by Larry Guterman, starring Elizabeth Perkins, Jeff Goldblum, Alec Baldwin (voice), Tobey Maguire (voice), Michael Clarke Duncan (voice), Joe Pantoliano (voice) and Susan Sarandon (voice).

It certainly bodes well for a movie when its scriptwriters (John Requa and Glenn Ficarra) have been commissioned by the lauded Coen brothers to pen a film for the Christmas market. With an impressive résumé of their own, it is reasonable to expect that the Coens can spot talent and it is for this reason that one approaches 'Cats and Dogs' with a generous degree of optimism. 90 minutes later, however, one can only hope that Messrs Joel and Ethan have seen other material from the Requa/Ficarra canon, because 'Cats and Dogs' is a big disappointment.

The scenario is as follows: cats and dogs are waging a high-tech covert espionage war against each other for the dubious distinction of being human beings' favourite pet. The crux of the plot revolves around the attempts of the cats, lead by the heinous Mr Tinkles, to scupper scientist Jeff Goldblum's endeavours to find a cure for allergic reactions to dogs. If he succeeds, then the dogs will only consolidate their position as - certainly as far as the filmmakers are concerned - the pet of choice for the discerning human being. So a battle of wills (and paws) ensues as the courageous canines try to repel the evil influence of the feline furballs.

On paper, it may have looked like 'Cats and Dogs' would prove a winner with both children and adults. Maybe even another 'Babe'. Something, however, obviously went seriously wrong between the drawing board and the transformation to celluloid. Ironically, the main problem with the movie lies with the script. After the initially amusing novelty of talking animals wears off, the least one can expect is a few sharp one liners to raise a chuckle or two. It never happens.

The message of 'Cats and Dogs' is a very simple one: dogs are great, and cats are evil. This in itself is questionable, but the biggest disappointment stems from the feeling that a glorious opportunity has been criminally wasted. Kids might like it, although that's by no means a certainty, but adults will probably find it difficult to warm to. Let's just hope the brothers Coen know something we don't.

Tom Grealis