Movie Information

Genre: Comic-Book-Adventure Travesty
Director: Pitof
Starring: Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy
Rated: PG-13

Catwoman is pretty bad, all right, though I don’t think it’s as unrelentingly awful as it’s being portrayed in the popular press — unless, of course, you’re a hardcore comic-book fan. In that case, it’s probably way beyond awful.

Not being a comic-book aficionado, I wasn’t offended by this rather peculiar mutation of the titular heroine, though I can’t say I understand the logic behind the changes either. Why bother making a Catwoman movie if you’re going to junk just about anything that’s even slightly relevant to the character? Instead of Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer or anything out of the comics, here we get a completely rethought and renamed creation. If you’re going to do that, then why not just flip through a dictionary and pick a new animal to call her altogether — say, Aardvarkwoman, or Buffalogal?

Apparently, the filmmakers got as far as the letter “D” in a special kinky edition of Webster’s, and opted to create “Catwoman the Dominatrix of the Dark” — though the result, in light of this film’s PG-13-ishness, is actually more like “Kitten With a Whip.” As Catwoman stands, even that doesn’t work, because it’s never possible to connect the downright-goofy Patience Phillips character with her feline alter ego. There’s just nothing between her two incarnations that jibes.

That’s not to say that the filmmakers don’t know their comic-book movies; they do. Catwoman‘s script is cribbed from several, with its whole cosmetics scenario drawn from Tim Burton’s Batman. Too, Patience being “killed off ” by corporate bad guys is straight out of Burton’s Batman Returns (with a little of the birth of the Joker from the enigmatic director’s first installment thrown in for good measure). Yet Catwoman‘s attempts at copying result in something that’s so vastly inferior to its sources as to be downright embarrassing, merely feeding the overall impression of a movie we’ve seen before — lots of times.

Berry’s Patience Phillips is a typical nerdy, put-upon cog in a corporate wheel — in other words, she’s just begging for what passes for Hollywood’s version of female empowerment. She even has the heavy-built, oversexed, wisecracking girlfriend (Alex Borstein, Bad Santa) and the obligatory, flamingly gay subordinate friend (Michael Massee, Corky Romano).

Patience hasn’t even got the nerve to tell her neighbors to keep it down when they’re still partying at 4 a.m. Yet when she stumbles onto her company’s plans to market a new miracle cream (which no two people can pronounce the same way) with a very bad side-effect (namely, if you stop using it, your skin more or less rots), she’s eliminated. Of course, this is just so she can be “reborn” as Catwoman — something involving a none-too-convincing CGI Egyptian feline (a mau, in fact) and the later nonsensical ramblings of a woman named Ophelia (Frances Conroy, Maid in Manhattan). Soon, Patience is festooned in kinky leather, brandishing a whip, snorting catnip and gobbling down sushi and cans of tuna. And, yes, it’s all just as silly as it sounds.

To make matters worse, the particulars of her transformation often skirt all sorts of side issues. For example, Patience, in catlike fashion, can’t abide water; however, the questions this naturally raises about her bathing practices are never addressed, and it’s hard not to wonder just how gamey she must be by movie’s end. Maybe that’s why she decides it’ll never work out between her and her cop boyfriend (Benjamin Bratt). Who knows? Who really cares?

The apparent raison d’etre for Catwoman is to put Berry — well on her way to outdistancing Angelina Jolie as the actress most likely to keep audiences out of a theater — into kinky leather togs. Admittedly, she wears them well, though the result is less sexy than it is a kind of silly caricature of sexiness. And as directed by the single-named Pitof (not giving his full name is probably sound logic), it’s even less titillating still. The script is so bad that it’s perhaps unfair to really blame Pitof, though he certainly didn’t help matters.

Now, I like a moving camera and I often admire aggressively edited films, but this thing is such a riot of purposeless motion that I was close to a bout of mal de mer on more than one occasion. Plus, the CGI is so relentless — and so relentlessly cartoonish — that it makes Van Helsing look like a model of restraint. Little of it makes good sense, and none of it is very exciting.

The film’s most interesting character is Sharon Stone’s cosmetics mogul, and even her role finally collapses into silliness. To top it off, the romance between Patience and Detective Tom Lone (Bratt) is just plain dull (though the basketball game between the two — Patience playing in sleeves that Wilt Chamberlain couldn’t overcome — is pretty funny). And I, for one, don’t find Bratt quite the jaw-droppingly irresistible guy the cast is forced to salivate over, as if he’s the end-all, be-all Adonis.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Catwoman

  1. Steve

    I watched this again on cable last night. I have to say, the first time I saw it, I thought it was hilarious. Halle Berry of course looks fabulous in the leather, but her “Patience” character is just ridiculous – if they were going to ugh her, they should have really ugged her out. The CGI is really cartoonish. I think they were trying to make her look like a cat, but she just succeeded in looking like a strange jelly-woman (I am seeing a drinking game for this movie involving jello shooters.) I also loved the tuna and sushi gags. I was trying to think how I would act if I went out for a first dinner date with someone and they started wolfing it down like that! Whatever my reaction, Bratt didn’t seem to know what to do with that moment.

    I thought Sharon Stone looked gorgeous too. And I guess I just liked the cast (or the camera work makeup, and lighting), because I did salivate over Bratt. I thought the chemsitry between them during the catwalk scene at the theater, and the basketball game was good, although it didn’t go very far after that. It would have been interesting for them to show more about Bratt’s character’s conflict about investigating his new love interest. Is he work obsessed? Does he not trust anyone? I guess that would be expecting too much depth.

    I have to say, on the second watching, that the fight scenes did steal focus from the good time. I would really have enjoyed watching Halle kick some butt. But what you get is basically a slide show of the fights. The action is going so fast you can’t see anything but blurs. My sister is a film-maker, and I suspect that the footage of the fight scenes was so bad, they just had to use the best short shots they could and hope it wouldn’t show. I know my sis has had a similar problem with cameramen she has employed in the past. I guess if I want to watch cool chics kick butt, I can watch Kill Bill again. Hmm, maybe a drinking game with bloody marys…

  2. Ken Hanke

    “The action is going so fast you can’t see anything but blurs.”

    Near as I can tell, this approach — along with shooting in close and a lot of fast editing — is the basic recourse of directors who haven’t the least idea how to shoot a fight scene. The idea seems to be that if there’s enough stuff going on and you can’t tell what it is, it must be very exciting.

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