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Movie of the Day: Catwoman (2004)

27 Jun

Catwoman is mounted on one incontrovertible truth: Halle Berry looks great in black leather.  This is a fact displayed all through this laborious hemorrhoid of a movie.  It is virtually unwatchable, yet you can’t deny the fact that she is a natural wonder to behold.  Great pains have been taken to properly photograph her eyes, her lips, her legs, her shoulders, her bare back, and at one point even her tongue.  Yet, the producers of Catwoman have overlooked another unavoidable fact: All that organic lovliness is meaningless if you have no movie to build around it.  Might as well buy a calendar and get it over with.

What is here isn’t really a movie, it’s a perfume ad that’s permitted to go on for two hours.  At its center is a script that even photogenic black leather and ruby lips can’t fix.  Ms. Berry is a talented actress but you have to wonder at the thought process that went into this property.  The poster is the movie.  The rest is more or less innocuous.

Berry plays Patience Phillips, who begins as a frumpy insecure graphic artist working for George Hedare (Lambert Wilson), a megalomaniac cosmetics magnate who is secretly selling a toxic skin cream that will keep women looking young so long as they keep using his lousy product. Patience finds out about this little scheme and is killed and dumped in the river for her troubles. Emerging later, apparently having been brought back to life by cats (groan) she re-imagines herself as Catwoman. A trip to the leather shop, a new hairdo and – VOILA! – she’s a superhero. She can leap from building to building like a badly rendered CGI jungle cat and she’s crazy with a whip. Other than that, she ain’t much in the way of functionality. Somewhere in her transformation, she gets Yoda-like advice from a mysterious woman called Ophelia (Frances Conroy) whose role is more or less superfluous.

On her mission to destroy the Hedare and his evil toxic cosmetics factory (read that sentence again), Patience falls in love with a cop played by Benjamin Bratt who is really reeeeeeeally slow to catch on. Patience is not only his love interest, but also apparently the only black woman in town. He is working the case to bring Catwoman to justice, but he doesn’t even recognize her through the mask when they’re face to face. How did he get to be a cop?

The director, who calls himself Pitof, has graduated from television commercials but hasn’t left them behind. He’s great with the photography but as a dramatist he’s got a long, LONG way to go. His scenes are set pieces in which Berry twists and kicks and snaps her whip and throws out stupid double-entendres (“Cats come when they feel like it. Not when they’re told.”) They’re probably pretty pictures by themselves, but look just plain stupid when strung together.

He’s also made a movie that’s a bit confusing. Who is this character? The opening credits tell us that the movie is “Based on the characters by Bob Kane,” but as far as I know, there has never been a Catwoman named Patience Phillips. The movie doesn’t take place in Gotham City, there’s no mention of Batman and this Catwoman isn’t Salina Kyle. Who is she? Is she an imposter? A clone? A wannabe? Based on the evidence, she seems to fit all three.

During this terrible movie, I had a lot of time to think. How would a movie about a cat woman really play out? She’s be sullen, ignore you when you call her and sleep all day. Occasionally she’d find a corner to get at a bad itch, and she’s spend most of her day sleeping in whatever window is getting the best sunlight. Maybe Catwoman should have been played by a teenager.

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