ZERO STARS/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C
starring Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Lambert Wilson
screenplay by John Brancato & Michael Ferris and John Rogers
directed by Pitof
by Walter Chaw Catwoman is all the bad that Gigli promised to be and more. It's bad enough that not only are careers over, but somebody should be slapped. The question arises as to whether it's as bad as Glitter, and though the answer is "sure," that doesn't fully address the fact that it's bad in the same way as Glitter. It's fabulously, deliriously, egregiously awful--a queer camp classic in the making, and the second film so far this summer to squeeze a lovely young actress into S&M gear (see: Keira Knightley in King Arthur). If this is the face of modern feminism ("I'm bad, but only as bad as I wanna be," Berry's Catwoman skanks), then count me in: I'm strangely un-threatened by the show-all boom-boom girl power of Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, the Olsen Twins, and so on. Call me crazy.
Patience Phillips (Berry) works, let's say it together, for an advertising agency. She's a mousy, wilting, pathetic little wallflower who discovers one night that the cosmetics firm she works for is about to release a product, "Beau-Line," that is addictive and toxic. (Look out, Starbucks.) Armed with a sassy, chubby, jive-talking nymphomaniac girlfriend (Alex Borstein) and a token gay guy the cubicle over whose only line in the script involves clapping homosexually when love interest Detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) shows up at the office, our heroine dies (leading to a Sunset Blvd. narrative introduction) and is resurrected by a CGI cat. Asking "why" is one of those things involving priests and blindness--more fruitful are more cosmic, ultimate questions regarding how a 100-minute perfume commercial could have seemed like a good idea to anyone. I wonder if Ashley Judd would still be bemoaning her decision to pass on this project now that it's complete. Hate to say "probably."
Apparently people decompose once they stop using Beau-Line, but if they keep applying it, as aging supermodel and company head Laurel (Sharon Stone) does, then their skin becomes as hard as "living marble." Which doesn't explain how Laurel can continue to make the same three or four facial expressions that Stone has mastered, but there's that asking-questions thing again. All of this leads to a showdown between the newly-minted Catwoman and Laurel wherein Laurel says that our hero's time is up, to which Catwoman wittily ripostes, "It's overtime!" Genius. This is Einstein-level stuff, make no mistake--it's easy to fail, it's very hard to fail like this.
Catwoman is interested in being both ghetto hip (witness the soundtrack) and entirely unthreatening to the ruling majority. In that pursuit, it's found the perfect match with half-white, half-black Berry, who suffers from what we can only guess is the same kind of identity schism as Patience, mainly because her performance here is completely without irony. You sense that she believes she's doing a sequel to Monster's Ball, bless her, and her dead seriousness as she prances around her apartment eating cans of tuna is responsible for the lion's share of unintentional laughter. A scene where she rubs catnip rapturously over her face is destined to become as legendary as a one-on-one basketball courtship sequence between she and Bratt that's shot with such blazing, incandescent incompetence that dogs will try to roll in it. Best not to bother mentioning the number of kicks to the groin that substitute for pro-woman stances in a picture that revels in dolling up its main character in a leather bra and gimp mask and outfitting her with a whip.
With the upcoming sequel to Resident Evil also blaming cosmetics for the end of the world while boasting of a jiggle-hero played by an actress who pimps a lot of beauty products in the real world, the only possible avenue of discussion worth having about Catwoman concerns the backlash against extreme makeovers and injecting cow diseases into our faces. You could have that conversation without seeing the picture, of course, and doing so would save you the sickening running-tap sensation of precious life getting sucked out through your eyes. Catwoman sucks mightily on every level--it has the power to unite audience members in the way any great calamity unites strangers in a common trauma. Tremble before this ambassador of dreadful. It doesn't make you a coward, it just makes you human. Originally published: July 23, 2004.
by Bill Chambers The techies fought any urge to sleepwalk they might've had, and as a result, Catwoman looks and sounds as good as you would expect a new, A-list (if Z-grade) title to look and sound. We received the widescreen version for review, which presents the film in a 2.37:1 anamorphic transfer of such phenomenal integrity (you can suss out the saliva on Halle Berry's thumbs as she gorges on a shrimp cocktail), it's too bad the movie is such an eyesore--something I don't think I've ever been tempted to say about the work of DP Thierry Arbogast before. With The Forgotten and The Village, Catwoman is the third Dolby Digital 5.1 track I've heard in as many weeks that would truly make a DTS option superfluous, although it helps that the mix is eager to flaunt the discrete channels, thus adhering to the adolescent wisdom of every other facet of the production. Giving the sound designers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they were trying to mercifully draw your attention away from the screen.
Extras include the Eartha Kitt-hosted "The Many Faces of Catwoman" (30 mins.), an oral history of the character courtesy new and vintage interviews with the women who've embodied her on screen (Julie Newmar, Lee Meriweather, Adrienne Barbeau, Michelle Pfeiffer (the definitive Catwoman), and Kitt herself)--in addition to the likes of Alex Ross and The Life and Times of a Feline Fatale author Suzan Colòn--that gives way to a half-hearted celebration of asexual Berry's time in the catsuit. (Sure she's gorgeous, but in that drably perfect way.) "The Making of Catwoman" (13 mins.) barely qualifies as such, top-heavy as it is on plot synopsis, though a few cheap laughs can be had at the expense of the costume discussion. A six-minute chunk of additional scenes closes out with an alternate ending that's both stupid and boring, so I guess the obvious question is: why didn't it fit in? Commercials for "Batman: The Animated Series" and NASCAR 3-D precede the main menu while Catwoman's theatrical trailer rounds out the disc. Originally published: January 10, 2004.