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'Cats & Dogs' sequel is the cat's meow

Shameful news for Hollywood during this dud-filled summer: The best comedy in theaters this weekend is a 3-D talking-animal picture. Come to think of it, "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" makes for a better spy movie than "Salt."

A stealth hit in 2001, "Cats & Dogs" had fun with Cold War cliches by pitting covert animal agencies against each other in a bid for world supremacy. The sequel comes with new characters and voices, but an inventive, freewheeling spirit remains. Even better, the humans have almost entirely disappeared, leaving more time for a wider range of jokes, puns and sendups.

The hero this time is a rambunctious police dog clearly modeled on Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs in "Lethal Weapon" - the name is Diggs (voiced by James Marsden). Tapped by canine superagent Butch (Nick Nolte, replacing Alec Baldwin), Diggs joins the hunt for Kitty Galore (Bette Midler), who is plotting to drive all dogs insane with a high-pitched satellite broadcast.

The movie's jokes can be obvious - original villain Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes) shows up in a Hannibal Lecter mask - but also slyly topical. At one point Diggs water-tortures a feline spy, Catherine (Christina Applegate), and gets a reprimand from Butch: "That was not a valid interrogation technique!"

Using live action, puppetry and computer animation, the movie whips up some surprisingly fun action scenes, including a literal catfight atop a dozing retiree. As a bonus, the movie comes with a new Wile E. Coyote cartoon short.

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