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"Catwoman": Weak Story and Direction Buries This Cat

by on January 17, 2005

Catwoman is a misguided, big-budget adaptation of the comic book character that stumbles out of the litter box and tracks its own crap all over the floor. A mix of been-there done-that cliches, loud music, and an overabundance of CGI, it looks like Catwoman has reached the end of her nine lives.

Patience Philips (Halle Berry) is a shy, reserved young woman who wants to be an artist but instead is a designer for a cosmetics’ company. DVD Front Cover ArtBut a series of events initiated by a mysterious cat results in her discovering a terrifying secret that leads to her murder. That same cat breathes new life into her, creating a strong, brave woman that wrestles with her previous self for control of her mind and body–a body that can now do amazing things. As the Catwoman side of her battles cosmetic entrepreneurs George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone), the Patience side of her gets involved with cop Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), who is caught between the two sides of her personality.

It’s hard to know where to start listing the film’s faults. What should have been an edgy, exciting film is ruined by committee writing and awful “music video”-style directing. But blaming it on writing and directing is just the easiest place to start, as there are many more factors to consider.

Berry does the best she can with the material, but even her character becomes bland and uninteresting. Instead of rising above the material, which should be incredibly easy here, she runs with it. Her amateur-ish take on Phillips is almost embarrassing to watch. Berry falls into all the familiar trappings with this character, never once rising to do anything special or unique. Even when she dons the leather and whip it feels tired.

The other characters in the movie don’t fare any better. Patience has a spunky sidekick (Alex Borstein) whose sole purpose is to make bland sexual innuendos and cause trouble. As Officer Lone, Benjamin Bratt looks constantly embarrassed and can’t seem to find his character’s personality. Villains George and Laurel Hedare are laughable caricatures, doing nothing more than spouting empty threats and glaring back and forth. The showdown between Catwoman and her opponents lacks thrills, instead producing uncomfortable, embarrassed laughter.

Some of the visuals do look nice when the movie is able to calm down and focus for a few short moments. There are some great CGI moments and some impressive money shots. Sadly, those moments are far and few between, and they are quickly overthrown by loud, pulsating music and mind-numbing, ludicrous directing. Given the caliber of talent involved in this movie, it’s amazing the finished product is so disappointing. So much emphasis is put on style, and the storytelling suffers.

Despite the final product, Warner Home Video has given the movie an excellent DVD release, once you get past that opening NASCAR (what the – ?) and The Batman promos. The extras on the DVD are actually quite a surprise. Included is the usual HBO “Making of…” featurette, deleted scenes, trailers, and the aforementioned promos.

DVD Front Cover ArtThe biggest surprise is a thirty-minute documentary on the history of Catwoman, hosted by Eartha Kitt. Granted, there’s more than enough material for an hour-long feature, but the thirty minutes are fast-paced and full of information. The documentary covers everything, from the character’s early days as simply “The Cat” through the Batman: The Animated Series version and up to the new swingin’ Berry interpretation. If you can get past some of the campy dialogue and narration, it’s a really entertaining study. The disc is well worth a rent for the look in Catwoman’s history alone!

I was actually expecting a bare bones release, given the film’s hostile critical reception and lackluster box office, but Warners really did an excellent job here. The audio and video are also top notch, giving the movie the best presentation possible. The DVD is housed in an amaray case with a removable foil embossed cardboard slipcover.

Cheesy special effects, under-developed characters, addled direction, and a weak story bury this cat in her own litter. What should have been a compelling movie about a woman struggling for her identity becomes a 104-minute music video, complete with tight leather clothes, whips, and girl on girl action. When is a cat a dog? When it’s Catwoman.

Catwoman is available in separate widescreen and pan and scan versions, with a suggested retail of $27.95.

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