Grrrrrrr. Hoodwinked again. Cats & Dogs is not a treat. In fact, I give it the Bare Bone award for the most misleading preview of 2001. Like the rest of the packed audience, I recently fell for the furry-fun promised by the previews and was eager for an afternoon of anthropomorphic amusement. Cats & Dogs started out well enough, with a long-eared mutt chasing a kitty through the neighborhood, wreaking havoc everywhere. Just what every animal-loving filmgoer wants: spunky talking animals doing things humans wish they could do — paw right, paw left, hiss, bark, scratch, howl, screech, pounce, counter-pounce. We all laughed. Too bad it was the last time. The rest of Cats & Dogs was so dumb that even the kids in the audience had a hard time not squirming. The film features the amazing puppetry and magic that makes it appear that real animals are moving their limbs and lips. It’s fantastic in pet food commercials. It could have been great on the big screen, except the filmmakers (new director Lawrence Guterman and a seemingly endless list of special-effects technicians) forgot the two essential elements of a successful movie: characters you believe in (regardless of species) and a story that makes sense. Alas, Cats and Dogs features neither. It’s just non-top technical gadgetry that eventually leaves you wanting to roll over and play dead. The story, such as it is, goes as follows: Working in his vaulted basement laboratory, mad scientist Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) is close to discovering a cure for dog allergies. Obsessed with his work, he ignores his young son (TV actor Alexander Pollock) and his wife, the effervescent Elizabeth Perkins (28 Days — and when will someone give her the starring role she deserves?). They’re all oblivious to the high-tech international network underfoot. Fearing the allergy cure will make human cat lovers defect to the pooch side, is the insane leader of the cat conspiracy — the paranoid Persian Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes) — sends his ninja cats and other secret weapons to destroy the serum. But the dogs aren’t napping. Their own espionage system is geared up higher than a flying Frisbee. Infiltrating the scientist’s household is the rookie secret agent, young beagle Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire, Wonder Boys). Sultry stray Afghan (voiced by Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking) introduces Lou to the joys of belly licks, but he won’t be distracted from his mission and keeps shadowing super-spy Butch, a cynical great Dane (voiced by Alec Baldwin, State and Main). Doggedly pursuing his goal, the mere pup fights the feline onslaught and risks his life to save his human family and once again prove that dogs — not cats — are man’s best friends. Lou’s the cutest hero to grace the screen in ages, but even his big brown eyes aren’t enough to keep Cats & Dogs out of the dog house. This is bargain-matinee material only.