Bad press and creative controversies have plagued "Catwoman," liberally based on the DC Comics character, since shooting began. There were rumors of on-set strife and script problems. Pictures released of the black leather costume were vehemently derided and criticized. Early rough footage leaks on the Internet did nothing to expound mumblings that a cinematic dog was being made. It would be with a glad, relieved hand to write that the finished product should finally put to rest all of the fan-boy naysayers' skepticism, but it won't. "Catwoman," if not an outright disaster, is overtly bad (and unintentionally funny) enough to become a camp classic along the lines of 1995's "Showgirls."
Patience Philips (Halle Berry) is a mousy hard-worker at a pretentious cosmetic company constantly trying to please her boss, George Hedare (Lambert Wilson), and his wilting supermodel wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone), while letting everyone walk all over her. While stopping at the company headquarters late at night to drop off her latest project, she overhears George discussing the adverse effects an anti-aging cream about to be released on the market will have on its consumers. Patience is caught and promptly killed to silence the company's secret, only to be resurrected with the help of a cat's life-force. Now gifted with a cat's heightened senses and capabilities, Patience must come to terms with her old self and new, sexy, unafraid alter ego, while setting out to seek revenge on those responsible for her death. Meanwhile, police detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) is smitten by Patience, even as he also grows oddly attracted to the mysterious figure he is hunting down: Catwoman.
In the annals of big-budget comic book adaptations, "Catwoman" places near the bottom of the list, both in quality and inspiration. Directed by one-named french director Pitof and written by John Brancato & Michael Ferris (2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
") and John Rogers (2003's "The Core
"), the end results signal a wide divergence of half-baked ideas that don't fuse into a complete whole. The story is impossible to take seriously because the ham-fisted personalities of the characters and their stagy actions range from sullen to wisecracking to horrendously over-the-top, cause for some laughs that aren't intended and stone silence when it is trying to be funny.
Alex Borstein (2003's "The Lizzie Maguire Movie
"), so funny on "Mad TV" as skit character Miss Swan, sticks out like a sore thumb, spitting out one mortifying one-liner after the next as Patience's co-worker friend, Sally. Borstein acts as if she is in an entirely different movie, altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, Sharon Stone (2003's "Cold Creek Manor
") seems to have resigned to the fact that she is stuck in a hopeless, thankless project and chews the scenery accordingly. As icy villainess Laurel, Stone is a laughing-stock for all the wrong reasons; her overly dramatic reaction at one key moment, despite intentionally being a put-on, could put a shudder of embarrassment down the spine of a blind audience member.
For an action-oriented thrill ride, "Catwoman" is glaringly stunted. The fight sequence, although energetically choreographed, are strictly of the kick-and-punch-and-jump variety, and the movie's misguided idea for an elaborate, death-defying set-piece is a malfunctioning ferris wheel, the bolts to one of the carriages loosening as a young child cries for help. There is nary a single suspenseful or exciting moment during any of it, especially shameful when comparing the picture to the grandly entertaining, rousing "Spider-Man 2
." Viewers walking into "Catwoman" won't get what they are looking for in terms of thrills, but they will be blindsided by what they do geta lame, cue-the-cutesy-musical-strings romance between Patience and Tom that is almost treated like the central storyline, and a mindboggling basketball-playing montage dropped into the second act that plays like a discarded idea for an hip-hop music video.
Halle Berry (2003's "Gothika
") is quickly falling victim to the Oscar winners curse; like Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, and Angelina Jolie before her, Berry is a spectacularly talented performer (her staggering work in 2001's "Monster's Ball
" proves it) in danger of dropping off the prestige radar if she continues picking lazy, throwaway projects. As the timid Patience Philips, Berry is unconvincing and fails to charm her way into the viewer's heart the way she should in order to make her transformation affecting. She is better as the spicy, vicious Catwoman, perfecting the movements and actions of a cat-like creature. Her physical performance is top-notch; her emotional one is barely adequate. When all is said and done, Berry is a deficient substitute for Michelle Pfeiffer, who was brilliant and layered in the role in 1992's "Batman Returns."
Is there anything worth positively noting about "Catwoman?" Yes, but the list is sparse. The cinematography by Thierry Arbogast (2002's "Femme Fatale
") is sumptuously imaginative, filled with swooping crane movements, sweeping establishing shots, and some ingenious camera trickery. The scenes in which Catwoman climbs and jumps buildings are inspired, featuring convincing visual effects that rarely look like computer-generated images. Finally, the occasional glimpses into the history of cats and their folklore are undernourished, but potentially fascinating.
As the first in what is hoped to become a new comic book film series, the amateurish outcome of "Catwoman" will likely kill the franchise before it has time to sequelize. In a silly, lowered frame of mind, however, the film may just gain a small following with drinking game aficionados. If they take a shot every time they spot something so dim-witted and outrageously misdirected they can barely believe their eyes, they'll be drunk and having a great time before the slinky Catwoman even makes her first appearance.