Running Time: 104 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a
Country: United States
This year sees the release of a plentiful (if not always rich) crop of superhero films – Spiderman 2, ‘Hellboy’, ‘The Punisher’, ‘Blade: Trinity’ – but it is also the time when the superheroine hits the streets in her own right, rather than in the dark shadow of some costumed male, in search of both crime and her own offshoot franchise. Later we shall see ‘Electra’ resurrected from Daredevil – but for now we are stuck with ‘Catwoman’, memorably played by Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns (1992), but not so memorably by Halle Berry in this new pussywhipping solo venture.
When timid, geeky graphic artist Patience Phillips (Berry) accidentally overhears that the anti-aging cream about to be released onto the market by her employers, Hedare Cosmetics, is both addictive and disfiguring, she is duly murdered – but then reborn, thanks to her being in a long line of women chosen to inherit powers from the Egyptian feline goddess Bast. Discovering a more animal side to her personality, Patience tests her new skills on some petty cat burglary, and plays cat-and-mouse with her policeman love-interest Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), before deciding to dig her claws into the Hedare corporation – where she meets her match in Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone), the marble-skinned ex-model for the company (and estranged wife of its chief executive) who is more than just a pretty face.
It is hardly possible to take dodgy revitalising cream seriously as a threat to the human race, but the cosmetics at the plot’s centre do at least serve as a convenient metaphor for everything which is wrong with this shallow, superficial film. Mirroring Laurel’s monstrous attempts within the film to remain eternally youthful, the committee-written script feels as though it has been thrown together by cynical executives in their forties trying way too hard – and failing abysmally – to appeal to their younger target audience. The hiphop-lite soundtrack, the gratuitous basketball sequence (“let’s go shoot some hoop”), the irksome banter of Patience’s office colleagues, the references to ‘googling’ and accessorising, all ring not so much of cats from the street as of mutton dressed (badly) as lamb, and are more likely to incur ridicule than recognition from ‘the kids’. Meanwhile, the CGI work and weird colour filters look so artificial that they merely draw attention to the blemishes in the script which they have been caked on to cover over.
Catwoman’s catsuit, the fuel for many a fetishistic fantasy in Batman Returns, here looks like the garb of a cheap whore, and the miscast Halle Berry seems far more comfortable as wholesome girl-next-door Patience than as her wilder alter ego. Any feminist subtext in the film relating female liberation to an abandonment of the cosmetics industry is demolished by Berry’s own public association with a prominent make-up multinational – and by the fact that it is Catwoman herself who celebrates her transition to cattiness with a full makeover, and who delivers the line: “Time to accessorise”.
Only Sharon Stone emerges from this film with any credibility, and her rôle as an older woman anxious about being made redundant by a younger generation of beauties is an interesting reflection of her status as an aging actress in Hollywood, struggling to get parts which put her on an equal footing with the likes of Berry. In the film she is, of course, ultimately defeated by her younger opponent – but in reality she outclasses Berry the way a tiger outclasses a tabby, and, as she has already proven in ‘Basic Instinct’, cannot be beaten when it comes to showing the pussy within.
It's Got: A pleasing appearance from Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) as crazy cat lady Ophelia Powers (whose name, uttered slowly, summarises everything said by her in the film); Sharon Stone proving much more convincingly catty than the lead.
It Needs: A much better script; someone chosen to play Catwoman for their acting ability rather than their looks (especially since she is taking on the cosmetics industry); real cats to replace the freaky-looking CGI ones - in fact, lets face it, what this film really needs is not to have been made.
Funny for all the wrong reasons, this may feature a feline in nightwear, but the cat's pyjamas it ain't.