Catwoman (2004)

Halle Berry has not exactly followed up her 2001 Best Actress Oscar with the wisest choices. There was a starring role in a James Bond movie, Die Another Day, there was Gothika, a spooker that didn’t scare anyone, except studio executives who saw the final gross. Now there’s Catwoman, a big-budget superhero film that’s got such a ripe odor to it to smell from miles away. It’s not good when a studio pulls a trailer because fans laugh at it, and it’s certainly not a good sign when the studio hires reshoots a month before the film is released. Catwoman’s looking for a big chunk of the superhero money out there, but will it land on all fours?

Patience Phillips (Berry) is a frazzled, down-on-her luck graphic designer at Hedare, a giant cosmetics corporation led by husband and wife team George and Laurel Hedare (Lambert Wilson and Sharon Stone). Patience is described as being “fun-deficient,” and lets people walk all over her. She tries saving a cat from a ledge one morning, and Officer Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) jumps out of his car to intervene, thinking she’s a jumper. He rescues her, though she doesn’t need it, and then asks to go out some time for coffee, the universal first date without it having to be a date.

Patience is returning her designs late one night and overhears that Hedare’s newest product has the unfortunate side effect of making people’s faces melt if they discontinue use. The Hedare goons chase her down a water drain and flush her into a river. She’s revived somehow by the same cat she tried saving from the ledge. Patience reawakens with superhuman powers, heightened sense, and expert agility. There are some kinks, though. She sleeps in odd places, gobbles tuna by the handful, and loves to swing a whip. Who knows what she does to go to the bathroom. The new Patience is a bit confusing to Tom, but he goes along for the ride. He’s also on the hunt for the Catwoman, a mysterious leather-clad woman responsible for some jewelry theft. Patience unravels Hedare’s cosmetics conspiracy and aims to stop George and Laurel from mass production, all the while staying one step ahead of her boyfriend’s investigation. But Laurel is also experiencing some growing pains of her own. Unsatisfied with being pushed out her company’s advertising spotlight for being “too old,” she begins using heavy amounts of their newest beauty product and makes her skin as tough as living marble. With this new power, she schemes to retake power from her husband, as well as eliminate a pesky Catwoman.

Let’s not mince words and get directly to the elephant in the room: Berry’s hideous, trashy costume. This is, by far, the worst costume ever in a superhero movie, and possibly the worst costume in cinematic history. It’s so overwhelmingly ridiculous that perhaps the filmmakers felt Catwoman’s ultimate weapon against evil was having it die from laughter. It’s a bizarre combination of a mask with large mouse ears, leather bra, criss-crossing belts, gloves with diamond-tipped nails, and leather pants that look like they were mauled by a bear. Oh, and then there’s also the open-toed shoes. What? A superhero who wears open-toed shoes? All evil doers would have to do is step on her feet. The only purpose the outfit serves is to make Berry look sexy, but you didn’t need a stupid, tacky outfit for that.

The story of Catwoman takes a giant leap into weird mythology. Apparently, possibly immortal cats decide someone will become a Catwoman, a woman we’re told is not bound by our foolish rules. There’s no explanation why the cats choose who they do, what the purpose of this is, or what is even expected in return. We do get a montage of Catwomen through the ages dating back to ancient Egypt. Apparently, Catwomen follow the same lines of mythology like Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Unto each generation, a Catwoman is born.” It’s also kind of funny that a film called Catwoman, about mythic Catwomen, has a crazy old cat lady (poor Ruth Fisher).

The villainous scheme in Catwoman is awful. I can’t imagine the FDA not having some grumblings when their test bunnies start having their faces melt off. More importantly, what company would EVER release a product that melts your face in our litigious society? Just think of the mounting class action lawsuits that could very likely bankrupt that company. So, right there the villain’s plot is moronic for two big reasons. Don’t even get me started on Stone’s superhuman strength aided by the beauty cream we learn melts faces.

The acting is what you would expect. Berry is a beautiful woman, no doubt, but her performance is split between flighty wallflower and naughty dominatrix, neither of which is convincing. Bratt is the worst police officer ever (he can’t identify Catwoman even though only a tiny part of her face is obscured) and tries valiantly to hold his own amongst the ridiculousness. Wilson was such a stock corporate villain that they could have erected a cardboard cut-out of him and gotten the same performance. I never thought I’d say this, especially after The Muse, but Sharon Stone is the best thing about this movie. She’s an ice queen, but an entertaining one until she goes overboard on her beauty cream.

Catwoman is the first superhero film for Warner Brothers since their disastrous franchise-killing Batman and Robin in 1997. It’s hardly a coincidence that Catwoman is the also the worst superhero film since Batman and Robin. The film is trying really hard to be Spider-Man. Before her feline transformation, Berry is a frumpy dweeb, and afterwards she gets heightened senses, a new jolt of self-confidence, and the love of her man. Catwoman even has the guts to rip-off Daredevil, an amusing but fairly flawed movie itself trying to be Spider-Man. There’s a scene where Patience and Tom play a competitive game of basketball surrounded by chanting children. This is a direct rip-off of the scene in Daredevil where Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner play fight on a playground. I don’t know about you, but when you’re ripping off Daredevil of all movies, you have problems.

This film has five credited writers, which works with my Rule of Five for films: if there are five or more people responsible for the script, then there was no script. Who amongst the five wants to take credit for all the dreadful cat puns in the dialogue, like Catwoman saying, “What a purrr-fect idea.” There’s also this wonderful repartee where Laurel says, “For you, Patience, it’s game over.” Then Catwoman responds, “It’s overtime!”

Catwoman is director Pitof’s (perhaps short for Pitof-ful?) first real break as a director. He began his career as a visual effects artist on films like Alien: Resurrection, City of Lost Children, and The Messenger, but can anyone recount a visual effects artist that went on to become a decent director? (If you bothered to answer with Joe Johnston, then I don’t think you understood the question)

Movie Director Pitof has a love for cheesy CGI shots, but what’s more harmful is his penchant for confusing quick-cut edits. After watching Catwoman, I had to pop some Advil when I got home because the film’s editing had actually caused me a headache. It became so annoying that I started counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.” to gauge the average length of a shot. Let’s just say that we didn’t make it past “one Mississippi” about 95% of the time. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with quick-edits; The Bourne Supremacy used them effectively to keep a lively, unpredictable experience. Catwoman’s editing is just jarring, especially during action sequences where you’d be hard-pressed to figure out what’s exactly going on.

The effects work is also rather pathetic. Pitof adores zooming exterior shots that become tiresome after the eighth or ninth time. Worse are all the scenes where Catwoman jumps and leaps through the city like she’s Spider-Man’s long-lost sister. The film is bending over backwards to try and ape Spider-Man, and these joyless, silly sequences of CGI Halle Berry crawling and jumping around the city don’t help the comparison. I do suppose that making a CGI Halle Berry flex and bend in her leather outfit was probably the most rewarding work for an animator since digitally making a breast grope itself in Hollow Man.

Who exactly is this movie intended for? If the filmmakers were going for fans of the Catwoman character, then why did they break away from the comic’s history and create something distant and different? If the filmmakers were strictly making an action movie, then why all the visual fluff, idiotic romance, and headache-inducing editing? I suspect that the producers felt that the names Catwoman and Halle Berry would be enough to put butts in the seats. So, then, I deduce that the selling point of Catwoman is, “Wanna see Halle Berry in a sexy leather outfit?” Now, most males will say, “Sure thing,” but why would they pay seven to ten dollars to see sexy non-nudity when they could go online. The short answer to who this film is intended for is, of course, no one.

Catwoman is derivative, incomprehensible, dumb, and just plain boring. The only people who will get a kick out of Catwoman are either hormonal teenagers aroused by Berry’s outfit, or those who enjoy jeering a terrible movie. I can’t even recommend seeing Catwoman because of its ineptness. It’s bad, oh boy is it bad, but it’s not insanely idiotic like Bulletproof Monk or Dungeons and Dragons to the point where the lunacy is a must-see. It’s just boring bad, enough that it almost put me to sleep.

Perhaps the funniest thing of all, Berry has publicly stated in interviews weeks after Catwoman’s release that she’d love to don her leather outfit and do a sequel. Maybe she needs to talk to the producers who lost a bazillion dollars and inadvertently created a midnight movie howler. Catwoman will certainly get delegated to the litter box, but how many lives does Berry have left in Hollywood?

Nate’s Grade: D

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on September 3, 2004, in 2004 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I haven’t seen “Catwoman,” but I actually enjoy “Gothika.”

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