Catwoman (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Without pussyfooting around, I can state that Catwoman is a catastrophe. An amalgamation of bad clichés purr-loined from other, better superhero movies (not that there are many - if any - that can be considered worse), this motion picture is an embarrassment to all involved, from single-named director Pitof (whose moniker sounds like something often done to rice) to Halle Berry, who has by now thrown away all of the goodwill she gained from appearing in Monsters Ball. One is tempted to say that ritual disembowelment is too good for those who have perpetrated this abomination on the comic book-loving movie-going public. But that would be hyperbole, if only barely.

For about four decades, DC and Marvel Comics have been engaged in a sometimes amicable, sometimes vitriolic battle for domination of the comic book marketplace. More recently, the battle has spilled over into multiplexes, where, until 1999, DC's preeminence was indisputable. To counter DC's Batman and Superman franchises, all Marvel could boast were a few lame titles and some vague plans to bring their most beloved properties to the silver screen. Five years later, the previous landscape has been obliterated in the wake of features devoted to X-Men, Hulk, and Spider-Man. This summer, the battle pits Marvel's Spider-Man 2 against DC's Catwoman. No points for guessing which one wins.

The idea for a Catwoman was first conceived shortly after Michelle Pfeiffer made an impression as the character in the second Batman movie. For a while, Pfeiffer was attached to the project. Eventually, either because she lost interest or grew older than Hollywood's female age ceiling, the rumor mill replaced her with Ashley Judd, then Halle Berry. What's amazing is that, some time during the dozen years when this project was churning behind-the-scenes at Warner Brothers, no one had the good sense to put a stop to it. This is how train wrecks happen - brakes are not applied in time to prevent an expensive and career-damaging accident. It remains to be seen whether Catwoman will do for Berry what Gigli did for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, but one thing is clear: compared to Catwoman's kitty chow, Gigli is caviar.

With the exception of a bizarrely placed black-and-white photograph of Michelle Pfeiffer in her cat suit, Batman Returns is forgotten. Those who remember the film, however, will note that significant portions of Catwoman are regurgitations, with an actor named Bratt standing in for a man-sized bat. Of course, Brattman's Tom Lone isn't nearly as impressive as Michael Keaton's Caped Crusader. He's just Berry's bitch-boy. The Academy Award-winning actress is so awful in this film that words fail me. It's difficult to decide whether she's channeling Eartha Kitt or Pulp Fiction's The Gimp. And on those rare occasions when she attempts a one-liner, it is met with hoots of derision. (Part her delivery, and part the words she has to deliver.) Berry's performance might have been campy enough to enjoy on its own had the tone of Pitof's epic been less somber. The director seems to view himself as an auteur. Then again, so did Ed Wood. As for Berry, I sense a Razzie in her future. (When was the last time an actor went from Oscar to Razzie in only a few years? Has it ever happened?)

Patience Phillips (Berry) is an ad exec at a cosmetics company run by a Really Nasty Guy named George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his Hell Hath No Fury bitch of a wife, Laurel (in a role devoured by Sharon Stone, clearly happy not to have been forgotten by someone). Patience sees something she shouldn't, is killed by Laurel's minions, then is brought back to life by a cat (who, I guess, is in between naps). Thereafter, she begins to exhibit catlike abilities, and chooses to use these for the good of mankind, revenge, and stealing a few trinkets. Brattman is around to be rescued and romanced.

Another Marvel vs. DC note. Marvel gives us Alfred Molina's delightful Doc Ock. DC gives us Sharon Stone's Laurel Hedare. And she doesn't have the instinct to spread her legs to help even the odds.

Pitof directs MTV-style. He cuts during action sequences every 0.5 seconds to make sure that the viewer can never be sure exactly what's going on. Aside from agitating people with motion sickness, this approach allows a male stunt double to stand-in for Berry without the Y-chromosome being noticed. In the close-ups, it's obviously Berry. However, while Pfeiffer's stint as Catwoman caused a leather cat suit mini-fashion rage, the only place where Berry's costume will be popular is in S&M circles. And most people into that lifestyle already have similar paraphernalia. One is tempted to say that the only reason to see this movie is to ogle Berry's body, but since she has shown more flesh in better movies (Swordfish for the popcorn crowd; Monsters Ball for those who prefer dramas), that's not much of a selling point.

As poorly written, ineptly directed, and hideously acted as Catwoman is, its biggest sin is that it's boring. This movie does not offer a single worthwhile, interesting, or exciting scene. The action is dull, predictable, and repetitive. Ever thought a catfight between Sharon Stone and Halle Berry could rival a dose of valium as an effective sleep-inducer? I suppose Pitof deserves a measure of respect for being able to achieve something I would have argued was not possible.

Catwoman treads close to the so-bad-it's-enjoyable line, but, at least for me, it fails to cross over, despite a valiant attempt. As far as I'm concerned, it's just plain bad. Nothing redeeming here. Others, who are either more generous than I or drunk at the time of their assessment, may be able to uncover some camp value. I wish them luck, because such a quest means that they will have to sit through the movie. Despite its feline pretensions, Catwoman belongs to another animal family - it's either a dog or a turkey. Take your pick.

Catwoman (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 2004-07-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1