Of all the villains in Batman's rogues gallery, perhaps one of the most famous and intriguing is Catwoman. Created in 1940 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, she was originally a catsuit-wearing jewel thief named Selina Kyle, whose sex appeal and ambiguous nature to make her a foe, ally, and romantic foil of the Dark Knight. As her character evolved, Catwoman often injected shades of gray into the often black-and-white world of Batman. Catwoman's mystique has made one of the more popular members of Batman's rogues gallery, which has also made her all the more ripe for numerous live action translations. Besides her appearances on the classic '60s Batman television show (where she was played by Julie Newmar, Lee Meriweither, and Eartha Kitt), Catwoman was also portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton's Batman Returns and had a very brief cameo in the pilot episode of the WB Network's short-lived series Birds of Prey (where she was played by Maggie Baird). But perhaps the most controversial depiction of Catwoman came in 2004, when Warner Brothers released the first feature-length film dedicated solely to Batman's feline fatale. However, Batman is nowhere to be seen here. Even Selina Kyle is nowhere to be seen. While this Catwoman retains the sexiness of her comic book inspiration, it's an all-new character, one that we probably could have done without.
The movie begins as we are instead introduced to Patience Phillips (Halle Berry), a meek, bashful woman completely devoid of anything resembling self-confidence. What she lacks in aplomb, she makes up for in artistic ability. She's a talented painter working in the art department of H&H, a cosmetics company operated by the dictatorial husband-and-wife team of George (Lambert Wilson) and Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone). George and Laurel obviously hate each other, which isn't helped by the fact that Laurel is being forced to relinquish her position as H&H's top model to a new, younger, more attractive model that George just so happens to be sleeping around with. Laurel doesn't even bother to mask her hatred for her husband either, going as far as to make awkward, unfunny jokes about her husband's infidelity at a press conference to announce their new facial cream "Beauline." Meanwhile, Patience has finished up a design for the Beauline ad campaign, but George rejects it for the simple reason that he doesn't like the particular shade of red Patience used. He gives her a second crack at it, telling her to have her new ad done by midnight the next day. She timidly apologizes for her "hideous" work, agreeing to get it right the next time. That night, a raucous party at the building across the alley keeps Patience awake. Who's still partying at 4:00 in the morning? Mötley Crüe? Kiefer Sutherland's gang of vampires from The Lost Boys? Insomniacs with nothing better to do? She sticks her head out the window and yells at them to turn their music down, but they ignore her and keep partying. Just as she pulls her head back inside, she notices a mysterious gray cat staring at her from the alley below, perched on a motorcycle.
The next morning, Patience is painting when she notices the same cat on her windowsill. She goes out to rescue him, and ends up crawling out onto a shaky air conditioning unit. A man driving by sees her and runs up to her apartment, believing she's going to jump. He arrives at her window just as the air conditioner falls out from under her, snatching her and pulling her back inside. The man introduces himself as Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), a homicide detective with the local police department. They don't get to talk long, as Patience gets a look at the clock and realizes that she's insanely late for work. She dashes out the door, accidentally leaving her wallet on the ground for Tom to find. He shows up at H&H to return her wallet, and the two decide to go out for coffee sometime. That night, Patience arrives at the company factory to deliver her new ad idea to George. She lets herself in after being unable to find a security guard to help her out, but thanks to her unfamiliarity with the building, she ends up stumbling across a research lab. Inside, we see Laurel arguing with Dr. Slavicky (Peter Wingfield), an H&H chemist who explains to her that Beauline has some unexpected side effects. Aside from being highly addictive, its use has some nasty consequences. Stop using it, and your face melts away; keep using it, and your skin becomes as hard as a rock. Despite Slavicky's protests, Laurel intends to release it anyway and make some money. Patience backs away and ends up knocking over some equipment, the sound of which prompts Laurel to send a pair of security guards after her. The guards chase her down into the bowels of a building, where she ends up trapped in a huge pipe in the waste treatment section of the factory. One push of a button later, and a huge wall of water flushes Patience out of the pipe, killing her in the process. Patience's lifeless body surfaces on a riverbed nearby, covered in mud and surrounded by at least a dozen cats. The one we saw sitting on the motorcycle and windowsill earlier is among them, and it climbs onto her chest. The cat opens its mouth and a white fog comes out, breathing new life into her. Her eyes snap open, alive but different.
Patience awakens in her apartment the following morning to discover that not only does she have absolutely no memory of the night before, but that cat is still following her. She checks the cat's collar, finding that it belongs to someone named Ophelia Powers (Frances Conroy). Patience arrives at Ophelia's old-style house in the middle of the city, and is invited in. She enters despite an initial hesitation, and finds that the woman already owns a whole menagerie of cats. Ophelia sits Patience down for a cup of tea, introducing her feline stalker as "Midnight." We also learn that Midnight is a one of a rare breed of Egyptian Maus, but before Ophelia can get into how cats relate into Egyptian culture, Patience decides it's time to leave. Before she can let herself out, Ophelia tosses a ball of catnip to Patience, who catches it, sniffs it, and starts rubbing it all over her face. Very weird. When she finally arrives at work, Patience ends up getting chewed out by George, who ends up firing her after she insults him to his face. This sparks a series of events that sees Patience hissing at some dogs, eating eight cans of raw tuna, beating Tom in a game of basketball to apologize for missing their date for coffee, and crashing another all-night party across the alley. And by "crashing," I mean kicking down the door, short-circuiting the stereo speakers with beer, and smacking the party host with the tap to the keg. I want to crash a party like that someday. Anyway, after crashing the party, Patience goes back to her apartment and opens up a box full of sexy leather clothes given to her by some coworkers. She puts on her new leather outfit, gives herself a sassy new haircut, and hops on the party host's motorcycle to enjoy a night out on the town.
She rides down to a jewelry store nearby, and notices that the place is being robbed. She sneaks inside and, in a moment that visually looks like it was straight out of Catwoman: The Video Game, Patience beats the snot out of the jewel thieves. She packs up most of the stolen jewelry into a brown paper bag with a note simply reading "sorry," and leaves it in the lobby of the store for the police to find. A day or two later, Patience gets online and does a little searching for cats. She discovers various websites about how cats were worshipped as gods in ancient Egypt, and discovers a picture of Midnight circa 1940. Patience returns to Ophelia's house, and Ophelia merely responds that she knew Patience would return when she was ready. She explains to Patience about the role of cats in ancient Egypt, before taking her upstairs to explain that Midnight selected her to become the next in a long line of "catwomen." Patience is naturally skeptical, but begins to realize what's going on when Ophelia pushes her off a balcony and she hits the ground on all fours like a cat. Ophelia tosses a bunch of pictures of various catwomen to her (including one of Michelle Pfeiffer circa Batman Returns), and gives her a feline-themed mask. She explains that Patience is still Patience, but is now much more... she's Catwoman. Blessed with extra-sharp reflexes, senses heightened to superhuman levels, and an unnatural knack for jumping great distances, Patience begins to recover her lost memories, determined to find her killer and stop Beauline before it can be unleashed on the general public. While she balances the line between good and evil and is enthralled with the newfound freedom her new persona gives her, a series of murders are eventually pinned on Catwoman, bringing Patience into direct conflict with the man that's caught her fancy. Patience finds herself trying to avoid a murder rap and get revenge on those that killed her at the same time.
Catwoman has been one of the hardest reviews for me to write, simply because I had so much trouble paying attention to the movie. It wasn't for being distracted, it's because the movie is uninteresting and just flat out boring. And the movie's not very good, at that. I really can't think of one good thing about the movie. Yeah, Halle Berry is usually nice to look at, but the short hair and dominatrix outfit don't flatter her at all. She's one of the most gorgeous women on the planet, so why anyone would want to put her in a costume that makes her look ugly is beyond me. And while the movie's biggest selling point is its lead actress in skimpy clothing, you could just skip Catwoman and go rent Swordfish or Monster's Ball instead. Bad outfit aside, the movie also suffers from bad direction, bad writing, and bad performances. I don't blame the cast, since they have to earn a living somehow. If I had to be in this movie, I wouldn't have bothered giving a good performance either. The script by John Brancato, Michael Ferris, and John Rogers (from a story by Brancato, Ferris, and Theresa Rebeck) features dialogue so poorly written, it makes me want to cry. "Sorry isn't good enough? Let me try the remix." "Game over? Guess what, it's overtime." What the hell is that? Anybody who talks like that in real life should be beaten into unconsciousness. And the character of Ophelia serves absolutely no purpose beyond providing exposition early in the movie. You'd figure that she could serve as some kind of mentor to Patience, like a cat-hoarding Yoda; or she could at least be a little more helpful than just handing Patience an ugly mask. It's such a waste of what I felt could have been a promising character. And how about Pitof's direction? He must have had both the attention span of a hummingbird and an addiction to some new hybrid of speed and cocaine when he was in the editing booth, because the cuts during the action sequences average maybe less than a second at most. It's not hip or exciting, it's migraine inducing. As it turns out, "Pitof" is a pseudonym used by French film director Jean-Christopher Comar. I don't blame him for using a assumed name, because I wouldn't want my real name attached to this hunk of crap either.
With all the disposable music throughout the movie and ugly outfits on attractive women, it feels like I'm watching a badly edited Britney Spears video that's been stretched out to 104 minutes. And the CGI is so unrealistic and so predominant that they should have just made the movie a cartoon. Whatever happened to using trained cats or doing stunts with wirework? And is it just me, or did that whip look like it was CGI too? Come on, Halle; learn how to use a real whip! Michelle Pfeiffer did! Not only is the CGI bad, everything else is bad too. The camerawork is too shaky during the action sequences, and combined with the light-speed editing, it just gave me a headache. And what's with all the shaky camerawork in movies nowadays? Just because they did it in The Blair Witch Project doesn't mean that every movie since then should. So here's some advice for you aspiring young directors and cinematographers: go back to film school, you jokers.
Klaus Badelt's score is acceptable, but it's largely forgettable and would be better suited for listening in The Gap or Banana Republic. And how about that acting? Every performance is hollow and uninvolved, and there is absolutely no chemistry between Berry and Benjamin Bratt at all. Berry seems to be having fun in the role, but it's so badly written that any credibility she had gained from Monster's Ball suffered a pretty nasty beating. I'd be willing to bet that she's just a bad WB sitcom away from completely flushing her career down the toilet. It's the quickest plummet of an Oscar winner since Mira Sorvino fell off the face of the earth after winning the Best Actress Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite. Meanwhile, Bratt is just there, and Sharon Stone plays the role like she's not only unhappy to be there, but like her role as a middle-aged woman clinging to past beauty hit too close to home. She may have been an "It Girl" thanks to Basic Instinct, but thirteen years later, a world full of Halle Berrys and Jennifer Anistons and Angelina Jolies has caused her to fade into obscurity. And with flops like Catwoman, Cold Creek Manor, and Basic Instinct 2, I wouldn't be surprised if she sank back into obscurity again.
The ironic thing is that Catwoman, one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made, was released during the same summer that saw the release of Spider-Man 2, one of the best ever made. Given that the movie is lacking in thrilling stunts or memorable one-liners, I'm not exactly shocked that the movie is a total waste of time. And I'm sure that the fact that neither Selina Kyle nor Bruce Wayne appear will cause fans to draw the line right there. Perhaps the only real connection to Catwoman as fans know her is the scene in which she snatches a few diamonds from a jewelry store. The scene contributed nothing to the movie outside of a way for Catwoman to acquire her claws, and probably wasn't needed. There's no purpose for it outside of showing her as a "bad girl," and there's more than likely a better way to show it. If it were me, I'd have made the movie about Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman from day one, and I'd have done everything humanly possible to make sure Pfeiffer reprised the role. And I would have dropped that whole cat goddess thing too. I have nothing against those of you who worship cats, but that bit just seemed hackneyed and tacked on. I personally found Catwoman to be the "girl power" version of Batman & Robin. It actually makes Superman IV and Roger Corman's Fantastic Four look good by comparison. I also have yet to figure out why it's so hard for Hollywood to make a woman-led comic book adaptation that's actually good. I mean, look at what's out there: Supergirl, Barb Wire, Tank Girl, Catwoman, and Elektra. Nothing really good to choose from, and none of them really rate beyond mediocre at best. I'd like to think that that a good female-driven superhero movie can be made... but only if Hollywood is willing.
Final Rating: *