Review by Dustin Putman
1½ stars out of 4
Bad press and creative controversies have plagued "Catwoman," liberally
based on the DC Comics character, since shooting began. There were
rumors of on-set strife and script problems. Pictures released of
the black leather costume were vehemently derided and criticized.
Early rough footage leaks on the Internet did nothing to expound mumblings
that a cinematic dog was being made. It would be with a glad, relieved
hand to write that the finished product should finally put to rest
all of the fan-boy naysayers' skepticism, but it won't. "Catwoman,"
if not an outright disaster, is overtly bad (and unintentionally funny)
enough to become a camp classic along the lines of 1995's "Showgirls."
Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) is a mousy hard-worker at a pretentious
cosmetic company constantly trying to please her boss, George Hedare
(Lambert Wilson), and his wilting supermodel wife, Laurel (Sharon
Stone), while letting everyone walk all over her. While stopping at
the company headquarters late at night to drop off her latest project,
she overhears George discussing the adverse effects an anti-aging
cream about to be released on the market will have on its consumers.
Patience is caught and promptly killed to silence the company's secret,
only to be resurrected with the help of a cat's life-force. Now gifted
with a cat's heightened senses and capabilities, Patience must come
to terms with her old self and new, sexy, unafraid alter ego, while
setting out to seek revenge on those responsible for her death. Meanwhile,
police detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) is smitten by Patience,
even as he also grows oddly attracted to the mysterious figure he
is hunting down: Catwoman.
In the annals of big-budget comic book adaptations, "Catwoman" places
near the bottom of the list, both in quality and inspiration. Directed
by one-named first-timer Pitof and written by John Brancato & Michael
Ferris (2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines") and John Rogers
(2003's "The Core"), the end results signal a wide divergence of half-baked
ideas that don't fuse into a complete whole. The story is impossible
to take seriously because the ham-fisted personalities of the characters
and their stagy actions range from sullen to wisecracking to horrendously
over-the-top, cause for some laughs that aren't intended and stone
silence when it is trying to be funny.
Alex Borstein (2003's "The Lizzie Maguire Movie"), so funny on "Mad
TV" as skit character Miss Swan, sticks out like a sore thumb, spitting
out one mortifying one-liner after the next as Patience's co-worker
friend, Sally. Borstein acts as if she is in an entirely different
movie, altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, Sharon Stone
(2003's "Cold Creek Manor") seems to have resigned to the fact that
she is stuck in a hopeless, thankless project and chews the scenery
accordingly. As icy villainess Laurel, Stone is a laughing-stock for
all the wrong reasons; her overly dramatic reaction at one key moment,
despite intentionally being a put-on, could put a shudder of embarrassment
down the spine of a blind audience member.
For an action-oriented thrill ride, "Catwoman" is glaringly stunted.
The fight sequence, although energetically choreographed, are strictly
of the kick-and-punch-and-jump variety, and the movie's misguided
idea for an elaborate, death-defying set-piece is a malfunctioning
ferris wheel, the bolts to one of the carriages loosening as a young
child cries for help. There is nary a single suspenseful or exciting
moment during any of it, especially shameful when comparing the picture
to the grandly entertaining, rousing "Spider-Man 2." Viewers walking
into "Catwoman" won't get what they are looking for in terms of thrills,
but they will be blindsided by what they do get—a lame, cue-the-cutesy-musical-strings
romance between Patience and Tom that is almost treated like the central
storyline, and a mindboggling basketball-playing montage dropped into
the second act that plays like a discarded idea for an R&B mu sic video.
Halle Berry (2003's "Gothika") is quickly falling victim to the supporting-actress
Oscar winners curse; like Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, and Angelina
Jolie before her, Berry is a spectacularly talented performer (her
staggering work in 2001's "Monster's Ball" proves it) in danger of
dropping off the prestige radar if she continues picking lazy, throwaway
projects. As the timid Patience Phillips, Berry is unconvincing and
fails to charm her way into the viewer's heart the way she should
in order to make her transformation affecting. She is better as the
spicy, vicious Catwoman, perfecting the movements and actions of a
cat-like creature. Her physical performance is top-notch; her emotional
one is barely adequate. When all is said and done, Berry is a deficient
substitute for Michelle Pfeiffer, who was brilliant and layered in
the role in 1992 's "Batman Returns."
Is there anything worth positively noting about "Catwoman?" Yes, but
the list is sparse. The cinematography by Thierry Arbogast (2002's
"Femme Fatale") is sumptuously imaginative, filled with swooping crane
movements, sweeping establishing shots, and some ingenious camera
trickery. The scenes in which Catwoman climbs and jumps buildings
are inspired, featuring convincing visual effects that rarely look
like computer-generated images. Finally, the occasional glimpses into
the history of cats and their folklore are undernourished, but potentially fascinating.
As the first in what is hoped to become a new comic book film series,
the amateurish outcome of "Catwoman" will likely kill the franchise
before it has time to sequelize. In a silly, lowered frame of mind,
however, the film may just gain a small following with drinking game
aficionados. If they take a shot every time they spot something so
dim-witted and outrageously misdirected they can barely believe their
eyes, they'll be drunk and having a great time before the slinky Catwoman
even makes her first appearance.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman