Catwoman, the first feature-length movie to star the purrfectly divine heroine of the night, is a silly comic book adaptation that doesn’t have enough cat-like reflexes to land on its feet.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Patience Philips (Halle Berry, Gothika) is a talented artist slumming in the advertising world and working on a project for a major cosmetic manufacturer. Quiet and mouse-like, she is a hard worker who has put her career ahead of her love life, leaving the stunning beauty dateless more often than not.
As fate would have it, the compassionate Patience risks her life to rescue a cat from the rooftop of her apartment building and catches herself a man in the process. It’s an act of heroism that draws the eye of an off duty cop, Tom Lone, (Benjamin Bratt, Miss Congeniality), who tries to talk Patience down from what he interprets to be a suicidal act.
Having come to her rescue, Tom is taken by Patience and invites her out for a cup of java. Unfortunately, between rescue and coffee comes death. Patience falls victim to the evil George Hedare (Lambert Wilson, The Matrix Reloaded), a hard headed, over-the-top CEO whose latest beauty cream, Beau-line, is advertised as having the power to reverse the effects of aging. But it also holds a horrible secret.
Fainting, nausea, dizzy spells, scars, and rashes are just some of the side effects of the cream; the only cure, diabolically enough, is to continue using the cream. Once a lady stops using it, she turns into a grotesque, lizard-like shadow of her former beauty.
Wanting to keep these side effects hush-hush, George’s goons, a couple trigger happy security guards, discover Patience roaming the halls of HQ during her poorly-timed late night visit, one of utter dedication to drop off a revamped ad. The original having been verbally torn to shreds by George, Patience reworked the piece in an effort to save her job, a job she wasn’t particularly fond of anyway.
Catch Me If You Can
Thus begin the preposterous adventures of Catwoman. Patience is literally flushed out of the building and left to die on the riverbank. Alas, an Egyptian Mau, the one Patience attempted to rescue earlier, comes to her aid and breathes into her the very breath of cat life.
It’s an interesting scene, one that offers hope for a creepy, Planet of the Cats kind of tone. The director, Pitof (Vidocq), fills the screen with artistic touches, the kinds of artistry to be expected from a French film director with one name.
After that set up, though, the story falters and the biggest problem with Catwoman becomes one of scale. There is no sense of urgency in trying to stop the first shipments of Beau-line; the adventures are sadly earthbound and lack the zip and pow of Spider-Man 2 or even Superman: The Movie. At least when Superman rescued a cat from a tree in the 1978 classic, it was done to set up an unexpected joke: The girl gets her cat back, tells her mom about Superman, then gets an off-camera spanking for telling what must surely be a lie.
Catwoman’s is a world of cat mysticism, cosmetics, cat burglars, and noisy neighbors. And those neighbors are the first to hear her roar in a rousing scene of payback by a woman scorned.
There are also the inevitable cat jokes involving catnip and, of course, at one point Catwoman asks, “Cat got your tongue?” With obvious kibbles and bits like that, the results become more and more predictable as the film purrs along.
At least there are some moments of fun. The newly resuscitated Patience turns out to be an agile basketball pro, outfoxing Tom and making her all the more attractive to every boy on the court. Then, when she throws on her black leather cat suit, which just so happens to have been a gift from two of her co-workers, “in case of a dating emergency,” she gives new meaning to the term “cheeky” with the outfit’s strategically placed holes offering glimpses of skin.
For a movie that has been on and off the bench since Michelle Pfeiffer slinked into her vinyl catsuit in Batman Returns 12 years ago, the story offered up in Catwoman is shockingly lame. No wonder Pfeiffer and Ashley Judd bowed out during the film’s development merry-go-round.
Even though Catwoman was produced by some of the same people behind Batman Returns, this is not the Selina Kyle character of Tim Burton’s Gotham City. This is a fresh incarnation, one that casts a shadow of doubt over the forthcoming Batman Begins, which is also being produced by the earlier franchise’s Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker; they obviously learned nothing from their Batman & Robin fiasco.
Over all, Catwoman spends a good deal of time feeling something like Supergirl and Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, two other female hero flicks which offered a similar mix of titillation and cheese. It’s unfortunate more hasn’t been made of these characters and that more effort wasn’t put into giving them a substantial storyline.
The casting of Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct) as George’s neglected wife offers some initial hope of outrageous villainy, but this shallow, cold-hearted rich woman isn’t enough of a character to embody evil and generate a sense of danger or consequence.
To her credit, Berry does a great job of doing what can be done with the material. She’s game to spryly jump around her apartment’s furniture and is hot, hot, hot in those high heels and tight leather.
But when Berry purrs out “meow,” it simply doesn’t work. It lacks the over-the-top kitsch of Eartha Kitt, from the 1960s Batman TV series, and it definitely lacks the sarcasm Pfeiffer smirked into the word.
Berry’s Catwoman is a bi-polar mess; she’s verbally aggressive one moment, then apologetic the next. And so goes the movie. It isn’t sassy enough, thrilling enough, or campy enough to be the cat’s pajamas.