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IN SHORT: Worst of the Year, so far . . . [Rated PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality. 91 minutes]
"Sometimes you have to die to get a life," goes the slogan for this superhero film, from the company which owns the company which created comic book super heroes, and their matching super villains, way back in the years before our parents were out of diapers. We're pushing fifty and still reading comics so we were ready to lap the film version of Catwoman right up, even though we don't read any of the Catwoman titled comics or any of the related books in the originating universe.
It's not as difficult as it sounds for this Catwoman has nothing to do with the one published by DC Comics. Thus, we don't have to repeat Rule One of the Site -- "We don't compare to Source Material," but we will, because we have space to fill and because we have to emphasize that, because we still read comics, we are not treating this adaptation as anything more than the movie that it is. Bob Kane, who created the Catwoman as a sleek and sexy villain for his Batman to tangle with, gets a screen credit in this movie because he knew how to get his rights locked down in legal black and white. Those who wish not to believe us can waste their ten bucks on a ticket and then walk out, as the critics who filled the row in front of us in a packed screening room, did.
We were more than prepared for this edition's Selina Kyle free production, since we already knew that Director Christopher Nolan, who floored us with Memento and is currently prepping the Batman Year One movie, has the Selina Kyle original to work with. That means no lifting of Frank Miller's version from his graphic novel to this Catwoman flick. Thus an all-new, all-different Catwoman! Attempting to remain untarnished, we ignored all reports about Catwoman that appeared in the various comics collectors fan magazine and the rabid notes on the UUEnet which posted the first bit of 'net gossip about Halle Berry's character. Those "rumors" posited that Berry would become just one of nine catwoman crime fighters spread across the globe. That gossip was flat out wrong, but it showed a heckuva lot more creative inspiration than the backstory present in the Catwoman we saw on the big screen.
Long haired mouse Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) -- some team that stitched this film together confuse the alliterative names practice that dominated Superman comics with anything logical for the modern day. Long haired Patience lives in an unnamed major metropolis which isn't Gotham City. She has a small problem with changing her work clothes from day to day --- she works for a cosmetics company called Hedare Beauty as a photoshop jockey, building ad campaigns and packaging designs for Hedare's products, the newest of which is a skin creme which promises eternally beautiful skin for as long as (you) use it.
Hedare Beauty is run by a megalomaniacal couple who hate each other as much as they love the money they've made. George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) is verbally abusive to his underlings, especially Patience, who is designing the roll out ad campaign for the new uber-skin creme called 'Beau-Line.' Patience does all George demands but everything she does, of course is wrong. She's given an impossible deadline to meet to have the campaign ready but manages to get the presentation done. Getting it to the boss in time, is quite a different story. George's barely tolerated ex-supermodel wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone), has just been dumped as spokesface for the company in favor of a young airhead who now, presumably, is sharing George's bed. Laurel is eager to take vengeance on the husband who she stopped caring for years earlier. The only thing that could get in the way, is if hubby bites the dust before any news about the "problem" with 'Beau-Line' were to surface. Beau-Line, you see, is a toxic concoction that will either make you look like you've caught The Plague or give you sleek, gorgeous, breathtaking beautiful though marble hard skin, as long as you never stop using it. Both potential results play a part in this mess. The apparent discrepancy should have been caught in pre-production -- except that the mono-named director French director, Pitof, apparently wanted to make a visual film to set fancy shmancy comic book graphic novels on their tail.
We must assume that Pitof's handle on the English language is minimal. Has to be, else anyone would have noted how poorly written the thing is. We excuse the actors, 'cuz all actors need work regardless how famous they may or may not be, and because we have worked with one of 'em, a long time ago. That leaves Pitof and the stock Warners production team that has guided all the DC comics to the big screen, usually with great success. Granted, some of the visuals in Catwoman are picture postcard gorgeous, though they come far after anyone with a sub 50 IQ has lost interest in his film. Those tokers who figure Halle Berry in her cat costume is a good enough reason to lay down cash will find that the editing in the action sequences doesn't always match correctly. They'll be distracted enough when what remains of their non-altered brain starts screaming "This isn't right! This isn't right!" We know of what we speak, though we haven't seen or hung out with anyone who has seen the weed in many, many years. OK, back to the story.
Patience, a shy little mouse of a woman, works with the man hungry Sally (MADTv's Alex Borstein), also a mouse who is shuffled out of the story after the need for comedy is expended for reasons involving the aforementioned product. When Patience accidentally stumbles across a conversation revealing Beau-Line's toxicity, she is hunted down and flushed out an industrial drain filled with toxic by-products. The waste drenched body of the presumably deceased superhero-to-be is saved when the kitty cats of Unknown City, led by uber-kitty "Midnight" breathe life and superheroic abilities into the body. Proving that the cats know more than they let on, at this point viewers will realize that the elaborate title sequence was not just a flashcard sequence of old news reports. It was a bit by bit exposition of the history of the ancient Egyptian Temple Cat. The 'catwoman' whose rises after the intervention of Midnight and crew has been under observation since before police Detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) rescued our heroine-to-be from a perceived suicide attempt.
Now exhibiting the manners of said felines, Patience dons the de rigueur leather catsuit -- how she got it is the only logical bit of exposition in the film -- and sets out to rip off a local jewelry store, where she acquires enough diamonds to give her "claws" with some bite. Her heroics, such of they are, all are of the vengeful kind, though most will come later. First, she will come to learn the origins of her superheroic powers, from an old cat lady who looks ready to step into the grave herself (Frances Conroy of HBO's Six Feet Under). Then she's got to plan revenge for the "killing" of Patience, which will bring her into conflict with Tom Lone, whom she is still dating, and then nail the hat trick by taking down the evil empire at the top of Hedare.
Comic book fans may recognize elements previously seen in the catwoman origin of Batman Returns, but barely. 'toonheads of a certain age will recognize an origin ripped straight out of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (sic). Those who don't and those without kids have about ten or fifteen minutes of awfully bombastic and/or passive overacting to laugh at before Catwoman becomes painful to sit through.
Those who don't believe a film can be this incredibly awful are welcome to waste their allowances sitting through the rest of the film, as Catwoman falls to the wrong side of the law while Patience dates the right side of the law; while one part of the married couple takes out the other half and puts the blame on the new hero. If another writer, or two, or six or twelve, took a couple of passes at the script that made it to the big screen, Catwoman may have found the large audience it needs. But, no. Berry's character is about as developed as this thing gets and that is not very. Evil corporate villains George and Laurel reek of badly knocked out comics of the 1960s but have no concept of the camp overacting that made the Batman and Catwoman of those times actually work! We don't have to be happy that those long forgotten ideas worked! but not even half the amount of thought has gone into the creation of this all-new Catwoman.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Catwoman, he would have paid . . .
...and worth every penny. Avoid Catwoman, with every measure of restraint you can muster, or suffer the consequences. It is a beyond-awful movie destined for any theater still running "midnight movie" nights.
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