Feline Trouble

'Catwoman' is Halle Berry's drastically im-purr-fect cat-astrophe

If movies were kitty litter, Catwoman would be the kind that doesn’t absorb very well and fails to clump. And it would be stinky. Really, really stinky.

This Halle Berry vanity project is littered with so many im-purrrr-fections, I’m not sure what to cat-plain about first.

So let’s just start with the decision to extract one of the most popular villains from the Batman canon and attempt to make her a superhero in her own right. Catwoman — already memorably personified by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt on the Batman TV show and by Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns — works best when left to cat-burglary and seducing the Caped Crusader. She doesn’t really cut it as a standalone.



Stone and Berry

In any case, screenwriters John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris and John Rogers have stranded her in a screenplay that is at best catastrophic. They don’t even trouble themselves to give Catwoman a worthy adversary, focusing instead on themes of self-discovery and the duality of women.

“Women are docile yet aggressive,” explains Ophelia (Frances Conroy), the cat-loving eccentric who serves as mentor to Patience Phillips (Berry), a meek, frumpy graphic artist who, upon discovering that the cosmetics firm she works for is about to release a toxic face cream, is murdered and then revived by a passing Egyptian Mau. “You are Patience and you are Catwoman,” Ophelia somberly intones, handing the conflicted young woman a kitty-eared cowl. “Accept it, child.”

Patience decides to bring those who killed her to justice. But first things first: She cuts and colors her hair, applies a brighter shade of lip gloss, and shreds a perfectly good pair of leather pants, presumably to provide her buttocks a little breathing room. As for a tail, she picks up a whip and learns to crack it.

Catwoman can do virtually everything a cat can do: scamper up and around walls, balance on a beam, land on all fours if dropped from a great height, see in the dark, and keep herself nice and clean with a sandpapery tongue. As a cat owner, however, I can attest that most of the time, cats do three things and three things only: sleep, eat and poop. While Catwoman eats voraciously — she loves tuna, she loves liver, she loves chicken — the sleeping is left to the audience. As for the poop, it’s up there on the screen.


Catwoman’s foe is Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone), the evil, manipulative head of the aforementioned cosmetics firm. Laurel, it turns out, enjoys a good, daily slather of her company’s noxious face cream, which has a nasty side effect: stop using it and your face decomposes. Ah, but continue to use it, and your skin becomes virtually indestructible, as though made of rock. This is supposed to prime us for a big climactic fight between Catwoman and Marble Girl. Unfortunately, what the final battle really needs is for Miss Halle and Miss Stone to don bikinis and dive into a big, jiggly tub of Jell-O.

A love interest for Patience comes in the form of Benjamin Bratt, who plays a hunky detective with the drooling mindset of a dog waiting for treats to drop from his master’s hand. Bratt continues his trend of choosing projects that fail to make anyone sit up and take notice. Bratt seems determined to commit career suicide. Consider Catwoman his official plunge off the ledge.

Conroy, so wonderful as the Fisher matriarch on Six Feet Under, seems embarrassed to even be caught up in this bibble-babble. The short and pudgy Alex Borstein, a gifted comic best remembered for her stint on Mad TV, is not merely handed the repeated indignity of having to stand next to the uber-glamorous Berry, but she’s been forced to wear her hair in pigtails. If I were Borstein, I’d sue for defamation of follicles.



Area Showtimes

CATWOMAN
Starring Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, And Sharon Stone
Rated PG-13
104 Minutes
Area Theatres

Berry looks sensational. But she’s done better acting in Revlon commercials.

The movie’s director, Pitof, cut his teeth as a visual effects supervisor. Unfortunately, the chintzy visual effects in Catwoman don’t benefit from his experience on movies like Alien Resurrection and City of Lost Children. His direction is staggeringly incompetent. Employing a camera that rarely settles down and a style of editing best described as fragmented and frenetic, Catwoman leaves us in a perpetual state of nausea.

“And so my journey begins,” Catwoman mewls at the movie’s close as she pounces off into the night, trusty Mau by her side. But given Catwoman‘s dismal showing at the box office last weekend, it’s safe to say that this is one cat whose journey has already ended.


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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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