This semi-sequel of sorts to BATMAN RETURNS spins the popular Catwoman character off into her own film – the would-be beginning of a franchise that failed to materialize, thanks to dismal box office returns. An almost unmitigated disaster, this major studio production with a major star in the lead (the Oscar-winning Halle Berry) comes across like a direct-to-video production, complete with ultra lame computer-generated effects and clueless direction by someone who signs himself “Pitof” (whose previous experience lay mostly in directing visual effects – which makes the lousy work on display here all the more confusing). The film feel like a low-budget knock-off, something Warner Brothers pumped out on the cheap, hoping the sight of Berry in her Catwoman costume would suck in foolish ticket buyers, regardless of the amateurish quality.
The story is essentially a remake of the Catwoman portion of BATMAN RETURNS; unfortunately, Michael Pfieffer’s Selina Kyle is nowhere to be seen (unless you count a brief glimpse of a photo). Instead, we get Halle Berry as a new Catwoman, known as Patience Philips in everyday life. Introducing the new character forces the script to rehash much of the previous film: Like Selina, Patience is a klutzy woman working in a corporate environment who is murdered after she discovers the evil deeds of her boss. Her dead body is resuscitated by a swarm of cats; she takes on the Catwoman persona; and sets out to level the karma of the male patriarchal corporate society that tried to destroy her.
Sadly, the new Catwoman comes across like runner up in an amateur night contest. Berry looks silly when she mimics cat-like movements by swatting her hands and darting her head (if the film had gone a step further and shown her catching a mouse in her teeth, we could have at least laughed as some intentional camp). The actress is hardly helped by an outfit that suggests a Halloween costume from Frederick’s of Hollywood – it is absolutely the last thing that anyone would want to be wearing while fighting crime. One could perhaps forgive this in the context of a superhero fantasy, but it is too obviously a male fantasy: despite all the script’s blather about female empowerment, the real focus of Pitof’s camera is on Berry’s tightly clad derriere. To top it all off, the computer-generated effects of Catwoman leaping through the air and sliding down buildings looks so bad videogame that is is impossible to imagine how they were approved for use in the final cut.
The script makes a misguided attempt to underline its silly story with serious mythology. Taking Selina Kyle’s mysterious resurrection in BATMAN RETURNS (a mystery that was never explained) as a starting point, CATWOMAN reveals that Patience Phillips’ kitty company Midnight is the embodiment of the Egyptian god Bast, who revives murder victims, so that they can right the wrong perpetrated against them. If this sounds familiar, it is: when New Line attempted to spin J. O’Barr’s one shot THE CROW into a film franchise, they came up with the exact same concept. Viewers are left wondering whether CATWOMAN’S Midnight and THE CROW’s Raven ever get together and divvy up names on their to-be-resurrected lists.
Benjamin Bratt is appealing as policeman Tom Lone, but his character basically acts out the Batman role from BATMAN RETURNS (he falls for Patience by day and tracks her alter ego Catwoman by night). Needless to say, the ordinary cop character is no match for the Dark Knight. Sharon Stone lends what was left of her stardom to the film, only to see it pretty much evaporate; even the much anticipated cat-fight between her and Berry at the end turns out to be a complete dud. Lambert Wilson as the evil coroporate exec does a decent job, but like everything else in the film, he is a scaled-down version of something that should be larger than life (as was Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck in BATMAN RETURNS). Michael Massee deserves some credit for a small role as a sleazy henchman.
Sadly, the half-hearted sincerity of the film yields results that are neutral: not tongue-in-cheek enough to laugh with, not heavy-handed enough to laugh at, except in isolated moments. Among these are the silly scene wherein we learn that having the powers of a cat enables Patience to beat Tom in a game of one-on-one basketball. (When’s the last time you saw your kitten slam dunk its catnip toy into the waste basket?) With a lot more idiocy like this, CATWOMAN could have been a camp classic of the first order.
Warner Brothers DVD of CATWOMAN was released in three versions on January 18, 2005: Full Screen, Widescreen, and Two-Disc Widescreen. The soundtrack offers options for English and French (no audio commentary), and there are options for English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features include a trailer, deleted scenes, and a couple of documentaries.
The Deleted Scenes are short and even more trivial than the footage that remains in the film (which is really saying something). The only mildly interesting scene is the “alternate” ending, which actually more of a deleted epilogue, showing Patience and Tom getting together after the plot has been resolved. (The editing of the finished film implies that their respective roles as Catwoman and cop will keep them separated, despite their longing for each other.)
There is a making-of documentary that serves as a fairly standard studio puff-piece. There is some mild interest in seeing the cast and crew rationalize the decisions the decisions that led to this disaster. Particularly amusing is Berry’s explanation for the cat-suit, which she insists was designed to show the character’s feline agility and strength; she comes across as convincing as a pornographer arguing for the socially redeeming value of his work. Otherwise, you will learn little useful about the making of the film.
The highlight of the DVD is “The Many Faces of Catwoman,” a documentary hosted by Eartha Kitt that traces the history of the character from the comic books through the live action BATMAN series of the 1960s, the feature film BATMAN RETURNS, and the 1990s animated BATMAN series. Included are interviews with almost all the actresses who played or voiced the part: Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Kitt herself, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Halle Berry. It is a wonderful little 30-minute tour of the ins and outs of the Catwoman character; enjoyable as a stand-alone piece, it is actually much better than the feature film it was made to support.
CATWOMAN(July 23, 2004). Directed by Pitof. Screenplay by John Brancato & Michael Ferris and John Rogers; story by Theresa Rebeck and John Brancato & Michael Ferris, based on characters created by Bob Kane. Cast: Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Alex Borstein, Michael Massee, Byrno Mann, Kim Smith.
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