"102 Dalmatians" is one too many.
Dalmatians movies, that is. The original "101 Dalmatians" was quite the charmer; you always knew dogs could talk to each other, right?
And the 1996 live-action version gave the great Glenn Close a role she was born to play: Cruella De Vil, that evil millionairess with a Dalmatian-coat fixation.
But this time around, most of the Dalmatian magic is gone; it's telling that the biggest crowd-pleaser of "102 Dalmatians" isn't a dog at all, but a parrot named Waddlesworth who thinks he's a dog (a Rottweiler, at that).
Close returns as Cruella, in a performance that proves not only that she's one of Hollywood's best actresses, but also that she's among the most game. Imprisoned for the heinous dognapping she perpetrated in the first film, she's been successfully de-programmed of her dog-hating, fur-loving instincts.
She's also been released on parole, on condition that she never attempt to fleece a dog again; if she does, her vast fortune (8 million pounds) goes to the dogs - literally.
Not to worry; Cruella - who's so cheery, she prefers to be called Ella - is a changed woman. To prove it, she buys a dog shelter that's about to be closed, gussies it up and takes a job there.
The only person not buying into her largesse is her parole agent, Chloe (Alice Evans), who happens to own the three Dalmatian grandchildren of the first film's heroes, Pongo and Perdita - by name, Little Dipper, Domino and Oddball (so named because he's all white, without any spots). But even her skepticism starts to melt away, especially when she meets and falls for Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd), the owner of the dog shelter Cruella saved.
But does anyone really think Cruella is all sugar and spice?
Close has a fine time as the evil De Vil, while Evans and Gruffudd are appealing as the human heroes.
But Gerard Depardieu, as a French fashion designer who aligns himself with the un-reformed Cruella, is oddly constrained in a role that should have let him ham it up mercilessly.
For that matter, the entire film seems just too reined in; first-time live-action director Kevin Lima, who was responsible for Disney's wonderfully frenetic animated `Tarzan," seems daunted by the task of keeping several dozen dogs in line.
His direction is pretty much by the numbers, and the film never really takes off.
It should come as no surprise that the dogs are as cute as caninely possible. But is it conceivable that, once you've seen 101 adorable dogs, 102 seems redundant?
Starring Glenn Close, Gerard Depardieu and Alice Evans
Directed by Kevin Lima
Released by Walt Disney Pictures
Running time 101 minutes