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'Strays' is formulaic but suspenseful


If you have a cat, don't let him into the room tonight while you're watching "Strays." He might get ideas.

Now, every cat owner knows how territorial snooty felines can be. But in this new movie on the USA Network (at 9 p.m.), Timothy Busfield encounters a posse of poison pussycats asserting squatter's rights. And their chief cheese is one mean tabby, an agate-eyed dominant male who gets an extensive film credit. (He's Monty, a British shorthair who also starred in Stephen King's "Pet Semetary" and Bette Midler's "Beaches.")

Yes, we're talking killer kats!

"Strays" is actually a pretty formulaic suspense/thriller, going back at least to Hitchcock's great "The Birds." But the formula is exercised here with respectful, if somewhat satirical, aplomb. What's more, it is interesting to know the movie was written and produced by one-time teen throb singer Shaun Cassidy, who drew inspiration from his own three house cats.

The film opens ominously, with cat's-eye-view camera work documenting the demise of a reclusive old lady who keeps a houseful of cats. And soon, new occupants are moving into the country home, seeking solace from the big city.

They are lawyer Paul Jarrett (Busfield, in his first role since "thirtysomething") and his author wife Lindsey (Kathleen Quinlan), along with a toddler daughter and a dog. Little do they know the cat gang is still in residence.

"It does have a certain charm, in an Amityville kind of way," says Paul upon seeing the house -- obviously foreshadowing the terror to come with a reference to one of moviedom's more famous haunted houses.

There's also a romantic tension angle with Lindsey's sister (Claudia Christian), who is Paul's client in a nasty divorce case.

Horror genre veterans will have little trouble identifying the victims to come, especially when a surly phone installer comes to the door. But there is some tension in wondering just how unpleasant things will get, with the obvious jeopardy posed to the child and dog.

Longtime character actor William Boyett also does a nifty turn as a veterinarian who opines, "Mr. Jarrett, we're talking about a cat. Get a grip on yourself!"

As for Monty, well, you wouldn't want to put out a saucer of milk for this feral fellow.


MARCHSOMETHING -- Just as Busfield turns up on TV, news arrives that "thirtysomething" has been bought by cable's Lifetime network. Repeats of all 85 episodes of the Yuppie-angst, Emmy-winning drama that left ABC last spring (Busfield was Elliot) are scheduled to be screened in both daytime and prime time slots, beginning in March.

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