Genre: Action, Crime, Fantasy
Screenwriters: Bob Kane, Theresa Rebeck
Starring: Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Benjamin Bratt
I doubt there was anyone out there with terrifically high expectations for this iteration of Catwoman, but I also doubt anyone quite expected this. The movie is so wrong in so many ways that the mind reels. There isn’t an original bone in its body, but that isn’t even the problem: no one involved in the production had any idea how to rip off better films with any degree of competence. So rather than taking Spider-Man, et al, as its source and inspiration, it feebly samples elements that it thinks made those films successful. Surprise, kids: Spidey is a billionaire because his movie is made with heart and skill that transcend any formula, not as a result of cynically calculating what the kiddies go for these days. Catwoman has been focus-grouped to hell, and box office hell is its fate.
The first thing you may have noticed from watching the trailer is that when Halle Berry is in full Catwoman regalia, she looks less like Catwoman than like Stripperlady. A half-hearted explanation for the outfit as provided, but as much as I enjoyed seeing Berry parade around in it, this strikes me as missing the point. A superhero is defined by his (or her) costume: it protects her identity, lands her on the front page, makes her a household name in both the movie universe and our world, where geeks such as myself will be eagerly anticipating her latest screen exploits. That this Catwoman is sexy is tremendous, but she also has no personality (not to mention bearing no resemblance to a feline): it’s just a tacky leather suit.
The heroine’s origin story, as presented here, is actually rather nifty: when klutzy advertising artist Patience Phillips uncovers a plot by her employer to launch a cosmetics line with devastating side effects and is promptly murdered by the nefarious execs, a feline goddess (in the form of a cat) resurrects her as Catwoman, presumably because she risked her life to save a stray just a couple of days earlier. The crucial scene, when a gaggle of cats surround Patience’s sprawled dead body, has something that approaches magic, and it’s the only glimpse of that elusive quality in the entire movie.
After that, everything promptly ceases to make sense. Catwoman’s human half has a fling with a cop (Benjamin Bratt) who must be one of the dumbest movie characters of all time — not only does he not recognize his girlfriend in a none-too-camouflaging leather suit, but he seems incapable of putting two and two together — hey, I don’t suppose that the insanely acrobatic villainess who is supposedly terrorizing the city might be the same woman who pulled those crazy stunts in that one-on-one basketball game you played, huh? It’s just stunningly laughable, and we’re expected to believe it, natch.
The action scenes resemble miniature (or even full-length) music videos so much, I became convinced that the relatively unknown director Pitof (one name only) emigrated from MTV-land like so many action filmmakers do. Nope: the man’s background is in visual effects, which I guess explains why he was hired to direct this. The effects work is competent enough, if inferior to most of today’s mega-budget extravaganzas (Catwoman cost $100 million to Spider-Man 2‘s $200); it’s the way it’s deployed that sucks, with derivative and thoroughly unimpressive martial arts bursts, incoherent montages, and tiresome sequences of Catwoman leaping from building to building. Spider-Man could kick her ass.
A superhero is nothing without a good villain, as we know, and Catwoman doesn’t have anything resembling one. It can come up with nothing better than Evil Corporate Executives, one of whom has the stupidest superpower I have ever seen in my life, leading to a final showdown that reaches unprecedented heights of absurdity. I usually welcome absurdity when it is well done, but what we get here is unfunny and unimaginative. Not even the formidable sight of Sharon Stone doing her fiercest scowl can save it.
Halle Berry is probably the ideal choice for the role, so you won’t find me complaining about the casting. Instead, I’ll complain about how this movie was thrown together without a thought or a care. But maybe that’s even giving these guys too much credit: I’m sure at least some of them thought they were making a decent movie. They were hilariously misguided.