are a cat! A cat! Give me a meow! Oh, yes, bay-bee, zat
is zee whay! Give me a little more, how you say, cat! Knead!
Zat's it, zat's it...now wave zat in my face! Oh, yes, you
If that sounds more like a fashion shoot
than actual film direction, it would only be apropos. French
director Pitof makes his American film debut with Catwoman,
and gives it all the emotional depth of one of Halle Berry's
Revlon commercials. Every frame revels in the beauty of
its subjects, good-looking people that all have the uncanny
ability to strike a pose in repose, no matter the situation.
But all they are is pose.
To balance it out, Pitof does force comedic
actress Alex Borstein into the kind of role Rosie O'Donnell
used to take. Thanks to her impersonations of Rosie on Mad
TV, there's a kind of irony at work there.
Catwoman thrives on ironies everywhere,
pretty much using up the world's supply in the first ten
minutes. Buried somewhere beneath its leaden fog might be
an interesting satire on our culture's obsession with youth
and beauty, and the terrible things a company might do to
dominate it. But the central flaw of the film lies in the
overlaying of superhero action that is meant to dazzle us,
not amuse us.
From the opening credits, it's clear that
a pretentiousness permeates the production. A clever Photoshop
artist has altered various historical paintings of women
to make them look like past lives of the felonious feline.
Worse, all that information gets repeated by a loopy but
nicely made-up Frances Conroy as Ophelia, a mysterious cat
lady who knows all about the secrets of the Catwomen, but
sadly, not Selina Kyle.
Yes, Berry actually plays Patience Phillips,
a mousy graphic designer for Hedare, a multi-million dollar
cosmetics company on the verge of launching its new skin
cream, Beau-liene. With less than a week to go, George Hedare
(Lambert Wilson) chooses to replace his company's spokesmodel,
wife Laurel (Sharon Stone), with a much younger girl. Tragically
for George, he fails to take Joan Crawford impersonations
for the warning signs that they are. Adding insult to Laurel's
injury, it seems that wherever she goes in their headquarters,
somebody is taking down her old pictures.
Somehow, cats get involved once Patience
discovers the dark secret of the skin cream, and a superheroine
is born. The problem is that the whole explanation is, well,
kind of dumb. Producer Denise DiNovi witnessed it work in
Tim Burton's Batman Returns. Forgive that this is
a different character with a similar origin, but you cannot
ignore that even in the Burton film, it made no sense. But
Burton moved past it with characteristic élan, diverting
your attention away from the utter ridiculousness of the
Pitof has no such skill. He plays it with
deadly seriousness, and unintentional comedy erupts when
he puts Berry through the paces of suddenly have all the
proportionate powers of a cat. That's right. She can do
all the things a cat can do: land on her feet at all times,
bend herself into impossible positions, utilize amazing
reflexes and groom herself by cutting her hair at super-speed.
Also, few people know this, but cats are
inherently experts with a bullwhip.
Though Pitof gets very tricky and fluid
with his shots, he rarely lets them soar. More than one
sequence gets its impact undone by nausea-inducing quick
cuts from editor Sylvie Landra. It's too conscious a choice
to be anything other than Pitof's orders, and it undercuts
the emotion of several scenes.
For a brief moment, you might feel hope
as Catwoman competes with jewel thieves in a delirious fight.
At this point, she wears a costume somewhere between the
classic Julie Newmar look and the one that Selina Kyle sports
in the comics. But it's an all-too brief (and probably unintentional)
sop to fans before everything spins out of control.
Only Stone seems to know how lightweight
the proceedings really are; at least she chooses to have
fun with it. If someone wanted to really put the actress
in a role forcing her to face the effects of growing older,
she could put up quite a fight. Not that she isn't still
incredibly attractive, but it's clear that something about
the arc of her character struck home, even if it ended up
Right now, the pain is too strong, but
in about six months, Catwoman could turn into the
kind of film that causes groups of friends to get together
and play drinking games. Behind the fun, though, is the
tragedy that this movie thinks it's so incisive and important.
Strike that. Berry's weird high-riding
cat hat? That's the real tragedy.