The Good: Good casting
The Bad: Poor acting, Terrible script, Dull plot, Horrible soundtrack, Lousy effects
The Basics: When Patience Phillips learns too much about the secrets of a beauty cream, she is killed and resurrected by cats to become a bland female stereotype, er, superheroine.
Sometimes a review ought to start with the bottomline and with Catwoman, I am inclined to do just that. Watching Catwoman makes me fear the forthcoming (eventually) cinematic debut of Wonder Woman. I mean, here's the big question: how can you screw up a movie about a leathered-up Hollywood-beautiful woman who runs around cracking a whip and kicking butt? I suppose one could ask writers Theresa Rebeck, John Brancato, Michael Ferris, and John Rogers and director Pitof (who I had a great deal of respect for from his work on The City Of Lost Children). This line of thought brings to mind the phrase "[Insert name here] could screw up a wet dream!" Apparently, it took a team of five to mess up the wet dream of about five million teenagers.
Reinventing the wheel, Catwoman finds Patience Phillips stumbling through her day doing artwork for a cosmetics company. She works under George Hedare who is marketing a toxic facial cream that will addict its users and ultimately make them biodegrade. When Patience haplessly learns this fact, George has her executed and Patience washes up among cats who resuscitate her and guide her to a woman who can help her accept her new identity as Catwoman, avenger of . . . sigh.
I'm sick of cliches and this whole movie is a tremendous collection of many of the worst ones. We begin with the death, jump backwards and then follow the story forward. It's been done. It's been done, dare I say, to death. It does not add anything new or extraordinary to this telling, so we wonder why the writers bothered with this technique or convolution. The problem is, in her opening monologue, Patience claims to be an unremarkable woman, living an unremarkable life. I'm sick of seeing movies about supposed "unremarkable" people who have great jobs (she works for a fashion company in a capacity that the head of the company knows her name!), apparently unlimited money for wardrobe and accessories, and several friends. Not to mention the ability to attract a potential mate (in this case, the police detective Tom Lone). Perhaps I miss the concept of unremarkable, but all those things seem pretty decent to me.
The next cliche involves the whole weird female desperation mythos that Hollywood insists on perpetrating. I suppose that's to be expected from a film about a strong woman which is presented by a creative team where men outnumber women four to one (see above writer/director list). As a result, Catwoman falls into or perpetrates some of the most banal stereotypes of women. Patience Phillips, from the opening shots, an attractive woman, is accompanied through her professional life by a perky yet not-as-attractive-by-Hollywood standards, dressed-to-accent-her-slight-overweight best friend who only seems to get excited when she's contemplating getting her friend laid. Then there's Ophelia, the pretty generic crone character who instructs Patience on the noble tradition of Catwomen in the Sisterhood of Women. All three are simply archetypes. And, of course, there are Laurel Hedare the dominant woman who wants to make women strong and the woman who her husband is sleeping with whose sole niche is the "slut."
And, as in any good patriarchal system of archetypes, all of the women (save Ophelia) derive pleasure and/or meaning from the men in the movie. Ophelia, as crone, cannot be associated with men and she is not. Patience and Catwoman are defined and saved by Tom in various capacities (including literally saving Patience from falling off a ledge when they first meet). Laurel comes to power by crushing George. Sally resolves her character arc by being attractive enough to woo her doctor. All of them are dependent upon the men. Catwoman's costume even comes from a man! Whenever the characters need an idea, it's the men who float the ideas they go with (case in point, it is not Patience who ultimately reasons how to keep her identity secret, but Tom).
Everything about this movie is canned. From the opening concept of "I had to die before I learned to live" to the "I called it five minutes before it happened" applause in the office when Patience tells her boss, George, off, this is a predictable movie with overused themes and an ending that hinges on the idea of a woman being insecure in a relationship with a man when she has freedom and/or power.
The only moments that have even remotely decent acting occur in Patience's initial transformation. Halle Berry does an excellent job of convincing the audience that her character is shocked by her newfound abilities and confidence. She sells us on that. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie does not fare so well and none of the actors give performances remotely near memorable. This is one of those cases of "excellent cast, used poorly." Lambert Wilson portrays George Hedare in a way so similar to his role in The Matrix Reloaded that I expected at any moment for him to begin droning on about cause and effect. Alex Borstein mortgages her charm and charisma to take on the droll role of Sally. Benjamin Bratt never seems remotely charming and Sharon Stone lacks any of her usual presence on screen.
And Frances Conroy, all I have to ask is "Why?!" Six Feet Under (reviewed here!) was successful, why put yourself in this . . .?
One of the ironies of Catwoman is that many of us have been waiting for a Catwoman movie since Michelle Pfiffer played the character in Batman Returns (reviewed here!). On the IMDB, alternate titles for Catwoman include "Untitled Batman Returns Spin-off." The shame of that is that this movie does no justice to the mythos or character created in Batman Returns. More than that, one of the most successful aspects of Batman Returns is the way the visual mood created by Tim Burton mixed with the haunting music of Danny Elfman.
In contrast, Catwoman is a boorish collection of current stars in the rap, r&b and pop world belting out tracks that are heavy on the bass, low on intelligence or intelligibility set to images that evoke almost no real mood. As I said before, it takes a lot to screw up the combination of positive or marketable elements the concept of this movie had going into it. Yet, it manages to do just that. It's a shame, too. The world could use more positive, strong, intelligent female characters.
This just isn't the place to find them, though.
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© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.