A film review by Craig J. Koban

CATWOMAN ½j

2004, PG-13, 91 mins.

Patience Philips: Halle Berry / Laurel Hedare: Sharon Stone / Det. Tom Lone.: Benjamin Bratt / Georges Hedare: Lambert Wilson / Sally: Alex Borstein / Ophelia Powers: Frances Conroy / Wesley: Byron Mann

Directed by Pitof /  Written by John Rogers, Theresa Rebeck, John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris and Bob Kane

Catwoman Double-sided posterOkay, just how wretched is CATWOMAN, you may ask?  Well, bad historical metaphors aside, this film represents Halle Berry’s waterloo, that is, of course, if you exclude her other works like B.A.P.S., THE FLINTSTONES, SWORDFISH, RACE THE SUN, STRICTLY BUSINESS, EXECUTIVE DECISION, and THE RICH MAN’S WIFE. 

Well, if you exclude all of those other stinkers, CATWOMAN is, frank hyperbole aside, a film so inhumanly atrocious that if they were to give special awards to efforts that don’t even try hard to achieve modest success, then this would it.  Berry may also take top honors for worst follow- up role to an Oscar winning one in cinematic history.   

Oh yes, dear viewers, this is the ISHTAR of modern super hero films, a disastrous amalgamation of cheesy and overblown CGI special effects, ten cent writing, one dimensional and wooden characters, and an utterly annoying MTV music video-esque direction that I like to call ADDD – Attention Deficit Disorder Direction – or more simply put, direction that is so choppy, so crude, so fast, and so enormously bombastic and over the top that only individuals that have no short term memory could love. 

Oh sure, CATWOMAN tries to sell itself as a piece of liberated women’s lib in the form of a chick that is half naked in costume and is forced to get down on all fours (numerous times) and purr and hiss.  Cleaning my own cat’s litter box was more pleasurable than watching this film.  Actually, there is one redeeming quality to it – Halle Berry’s ample bosom, which is shown with fetishistic glee all through the film.  Yes, if you like staring at a perfect body for 90 minutes, this is your film.  If you want plot, characters, and emotional investment (which this film treats as nearly tertiary elements), then stay the hell clear, because this film is a cat-aclysmic wreck. 

This is not the first outing for CATWOMAN in the local cinemas.  Many may remember Michelle Pfeiffer’s turn as the black clad minx from 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS, which is bloody Shakespeare compared to CATWOMAN.  The character was actually quite a hoot in that film, and Pfeifer hit the right balance between mannered overacting and subtle melodramatic tragedy.  Actually, the end of that film clearly left things open for a return of the pesky feline.  Yet, that project landed in developmental hell for the next decade.  Pfeiffer became disinterested (some say she grew too old, but I think that’s a crock, seeing as she is still easy on the eyes) and then the attention became focused on Ashley Judd, who subsequently became pregnant and had to back down (how lucky she was!).  Nicole Kidman’s name was ballyhooed about and finally Halle Berry, who was just hitting her critical stride with an Oscar winning performance in MONSTER’S BALL. 

I have no idea whatsoever the reasons that would lead Berry to believe that taking on this film was a fine idea.  The terms “career killer” or “box office poison” obviously have no relative merit to Ms. Berry.  You would also like to think that the creative minds behind this venture, in the film’s decade long hiatus from inception to creation, would have been able to write a reasonable screenplay that generates some genuine interest.  Nope, more time seemed to be spent on cosmetic issues, like probably how much cleavage you could get away with in a PG-13 super hero film.  When all is said and done, I think that DC Comics should disown the character as a direct result of this film. 

Boy, where do I begin when dissecting the plot to this sucker?  Well, let’s just say that it begins with Berry playing a young, shy Ad exec at a cosmetics company run by a particularly nasty man named George Hedare (Lambert Wilson, who channels a performance that is creepy in just how overdone it is).  George is married to someone even meaner, Laurel, as played by Sharon Stone who seems to realize how campy this story is when no one else (from the writers, to directors, to actors) fully sees it.   It seems that George has just fired Laurel from being her chief model for his ad campaigns for a product that, it appears, is actually able to stop the aging process (funny, wouldn’t you want an older model that looks great to help sell this particular product?).  Well, the nasty Laurel does not like this one bit, and raises a bit of hell herself.  Both Laurel and George are so woefully one-dimensional as a characters, but whereas Wilson plays the role to such perverted and gross caricature, Stone manages to play its straight, in a tongue-in-check and campy kind of way.  She seems sort of in on the unintentional joke that this movie is.

Patience is kind of a nerdy Ad Exec, the kind that works at what seems to be one of the best companies ever, but is paid so poorly for her services that she has to live in what appears to be a slum apartment complex.  Funny, I always assumed Ad Execs made enough money to afford better dwellings...whatever.  For reasons that I don’t really feel like exploring in great detail here, Patience ultimately comes to see something she should not have, and is killed by Laurel’s minions (also funny, I didn’t know that the bosses of advertising firms had goons with automatic riffles that could kill on sight).  But, alas, Patience is not really left for dead, but is resurrected by a strange cat that, it is revealed, has ties to ancient Egypt, but I think it has more ties to the bad visual effects artists that use horrible CGI to render it needlessly in some shots.  Patience awakens from the dead with some strange new abilities.  She can walk on all fours, balance herself with ease on any surface, and has sharp eyes and ears.  Oh, she can also hiss, purr, and lick a man’s face, but then again, so can most porn stars. 

It’s kind of miraculous how dumb Patience is, as she can never really pinpoint down at first where she got her powers. At least when Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, he is able to draw two and two together relatively easily and simply, whereas Patience is too dense to know.  Needless to say, she does begin to realize that with great power comes great responsibility to exploit your body and make a fool of yourself for the next 60 minutes of screen time.  She becomes Catwoman, a nightly vigilante that is not altogether that scary or intimidating.  As a matter of fact, what is there to be really intimidated by, other than the fact that there is a wacko running around in a costume that should not even be in a b-grade production of CATS.  She fights crime, steals a few pretty things for herself, eats food right out of the can, and sleeps about ten feet off of the ground on a high shelf.  Hmmm…I wonder if she uses the litter box? 

Of course, there is always a love interest in super hero films, even if they often range from fleeting to serious.  Benjamin Bratt appears as Tom Lone, a police officer that is investigating what appears to be every single major crime in New York City.  In a funny bit of reverse gender stereotyping, Bratt plays the man-damsel in distress and is primarily along for the ride to be romanced and saved.  Bratt seems to miss the boat altogether with his performance and plays the role so straight and serious that you kind of imagine him breaking up into mocking laughter after each take was finished.  It’s also of no surprise that he and Berry have zero on-screen chemistry, which is kind of crucial to these hero/ordinary citizen relationships in these films.  Imagine SUPERMAN where you hated every scene with Kal-El and Lois Lane because they seemed so stiff, forced, and weak and you’ll get the idea. 

Tom is also one of the smartest-dumb cops of all time, seeing as he is a genius for making brilliant, Sherlock Holmes-esque observations at times, but is still completely incapable of seeing that his girlfriend is actually Catwoman.  Oh well.  Perhaps the film might have worked if one went to the other and said, “You know, we have no real chemistry, let’s stop it right now.”  Bratt's police department is also an insanely over- propped set; I am sure modern CIA offices don't have the hardware that his department does.

I think that the most exasperating aspect of this film is its horrendously overdone visual style, which seems to channel the insane and agitating manic style of Michael Bay and McG with equal measure, only worse.  The director’s name is Pitof, which is German I think for “cutting during every action sequence every half a second for suitable annoying effect.”  Not only that, but the film suffers from another vile cinematic device called “bad CGI overload”, and Pitoff uses so much shoddy CGI in this film that the synthetic creatures in VAN HELSING look astonishingly real by comparison. 

Everything about the film’s visual look is bathed in wicked and excessive waters, with no one behind the scenes is able to apparently tell this man to stop.  Perhaps the biggest problem with the film, outside of its look, is that is just plain dull.  The action is repetitive and strained, the performances stilted and forced, and the narrative lacks in any tension, excitement, or thrills.  Hell, even Catwoman’s outfit is a letdown.  Pfeiffer’s Catwoman outfit was sexy and you saw hardly any skin.  This film’s idea of sexy is showing as much skin as possible.  Then again, I can’t think of another reason to see this film other than to see as much of Berry as possible.  Yet, she has shown more flesh in better films, so why bother with this one? 

CATWOMAN is the ultimate cure for insomniacs, a would be super hero thriller that should be crushed with a large, over sized hammer into some sort of prescription pill form and given to those who want to be put out of their nocturnal misery.  I think that the real problem with the film is that it needed more intense focus.  The tone is all over the map, and is, at times, played either too broadly, too seriously, too melancholy, or just plain too silly.  This film is such a profusion of many things I despise in modern films and anyone looking for something that might approximate a good story with characters that echo with any depth might have to cough them up in hairball form, because you are not going to find it here.  If Berry continues with efforts like this one, she should be forced at gunpoint to relinquish her Best Actress Oscar.  There is not an original fibber to be found in this film’s bones, but I left it very assured of two things:

Ogling at Berry in that outfit = good.  CATWOMAN: The film itself = bad.

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