Catwoman is not the all out disaster we were expecting, but it’s not a particularly good movie either. I actually started to enjoy the film, right up until Halle Berry’s mousey Patience Phillips turns into the titular hero. Her meek, artist character comes close to working on realistic level, while the film’s production design and soundtrack choices through these opening sequences are solid, if not exactly spectacular. But once Patience picks up her whip, the script unravels into a weird mess of kitschy cliché’s and unforgivably bad dialogue. Is Catwoman trying to be campy or are we supposed to take all of this seriously? I still don’t know and what’s scary is that I don’t think the movie’s one-named director Pitof knows either.
Patience is a graphic designer murdered by a corrupt cosmetics company when she stumbles onto the terrible secret of their newest product. They’re shipping out a face cream that turns people into monsters and what’s strange is that they don’t seem to be afraid of retribution when the government eventually finds out. Rather, they only want to keep it quiet enough to turn a profit, somehow assuming that once people use it, no one will care that it disfigures. More unbelievable still is Patience’s resurrection at the paws of an Egyptian house cat named Midnight, who solely for the purposes of Patience’s revival is rendered in bad cgi and made to look like a gray, thinner version of the cat we saw eating lasagna in this summer’s Garfield.
When Patience awakens she’s given all sorts of strange cat abilities, including a typically feline attraction to catnip (only Halle Berry could manage to make rubbing catnip all over her face look vaguely sexy). Soon Patience is sleeping on shelves and strutting around town with unseemly confidence. Miss Phillips never really seems to be bothered or perplexed by any of this and instead inexplicably compartmentalizes it and just goes on with her life. Somewhere in the second act, shortly after she beats up some noisy heavy metal bikers, Patience decides it might be nice to go after her killers and does so with such determined vengeance that you’d think she would have thought of it earlier.
To find out who committed her murder, she must of course wear leather since that fabric is required in any tale of revenge. Spider-Man you’ll note is driven by guilt, and thus wears only spandex. Once she cuts up some pants to make an appropriately cat-like costume she becomes Catwoman, a heroine who steals a few diamonds and foils a robbery just to prove it. Most importantly, she looks good doing it. But then this IS Halle Berry in that slinky costume, so looking hot is practically a given. When she doesn’t look good it’s because she’s being rendered in CGI, as she always is whenever Catwoman does anything more complicated than walking. You’d think Halle could manage to duck under a swing, but Pitof or perhaps CGI Halle’s manager decided that it was CGI Halle who was right for almost every non-speaking job. When she’s not generated by computers, Catwoman is played by a small Italian stunt man, a detail I mention just in case any of you have thoughts of getting high on Catwoman as good female empowerment. Not much kumbayah girl-power in that.
Somewhat as an aside, Catwoman has a nearly romantic relationship with a detective gifted with the too cinematic name of Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt). For the purposes of this movie, Lone has been substituted in for Batman and whenever the two are playing cops and robbers games together, the film approaches something that might be called good. But then they stop for a game of basketball and soon it’s back to the plot, which has Catwoman battling a villain played by Sharon Stone. She’s got super-powers, the worst super-powers to appear on screen since Daredevil’s Kingpin (whose primary power is being fat). Sharon in fact is a total waste of time and gives one of the worst performances she’s ever given. That’s saying a lot for a woman whose career sports gems like Sliver and is primarily known for baring her bosoms. Had Halle not won an Oscar, that’s probably something they’d both have in common.
However, most of the movie’s problems are caused by a script so bad that it must have been intentionally written to stink. I mean come on, the plot revolves around naughty beauty products… give me a break. The rest are caused by laziness on the part of Pitof, who can’t even bother to have Patience’s office co-workers wear different outfits from one day to the next. Weirdly enough, he has no problem changing the wardrobe of Patience’s best friend while she crosses the street. Black undershirts don’t normally appear to cover a woman’s bosoms just because the traffic light turns red.
What’s sad is that Halle honestly tries to give a pretty solid performance. That’s something she’d never be able to achieve, not when forced to utter laughable lines like, “It’s over time!” But let’s give her credit for the effort. The movie ought to be a huge humiliation for her and having now seen it, I’m frankly shocked that she didn’t find a way to refuse to promote it. There’s nothing the least bit resonant, interesting, or even exciting in Catwoman and the best way to enjoy it is to watch only to pick out all of Pitof’s stupid mistakes. There’s not a single good action sequence in the film, most of them being simply awkward and slightly embarrassing.
So yes, this isn’t as bad as some of us thought since it isn’t the worst movie ever made. Maybe it isn’t even the worst movie made this year, but then this is the year which brought us Torque. It is however a total failure, from story to execution a colossal blunder that you’d think someone would have had the sense to sweep right under the rug rather than to hyper-promote it as Warner Bros. has done. Catwoman is not necessarily the year’s worst movie, but it is 2004’s most pathetic.
Reviewed By: Joshua Tyler