“Catwoman” opens with Halle Berry’s character, Patience Philips, floating lifelessly in the city harbor. A voice-over tells us that on this day that she died, she also began living. Uh-oh. Here we go.
Before her death Patience worked as an artwork designer for the Hedare corporation, a cosmetics company that just screams “evil” and manufactures a line of beauty products called Beauline. When Patience arrives at the company warehouse one night to drop off a last minute project, she overhears some nasty information regarding Beauline that apparently the FDA didn’t pick up on. You see, the products are addicting and cause headaches, dizziness and blackouts. Worse, when you stop using the skin cream...your face kinda’ melts off.
I’m not exaggerating.
Apparently this doesn’t bother the company’s head, George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone) because, simply, “they’ll never know if they never stop using it.” But one scientist persists that they must discontinue their line of face-melting products, and of course he is properly whacked.
Patience meets the same fate when she gets flushed out of the company’s ventilation system into the harbor, only to be revitalized by Midnight, a cat who seductively crawls over her dead body (begging for parody) and revitalizes her with some sort of magical power that soon transforms her into Catwoman.
Midnight is the same cat Patience tried to rescue from her ledge earlier that afternoon. However in the process Patience found herself in a life-threatening situation but was rescued by a studly “manwich” cop named Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt).
The cop instantly falls in love and finds her at work to ask her out on a date. Patience’s you-go-girl best friend Sally (Alex Borstein), the obligatory slightly chubby friend (though this time the races are reversed) encourages her to go out with him. So does the gay co-worker, who along with Sally purchased the leather Catwoman outfit for her even though she swore she’d never wear it. This part of the film I did like. That the costume was given to her by a gay co-worker is more plausible than Peter Parker’s creation of his Spidey suit and the way the rest of the superhero ilk obtain their nifty threads.
But back to Patience’s death scene. She is brought back to life by Midnight and a family of cats. With these new powers, Patience begins displaying cat-like behavior with extraordinary abilities. She now sleeps on high shelves (well, sometimes; when the film’s logical progression remembers), hisses at dogs, dislikes the rain, eats tunafish straight out of the can, slurps down sushi and climbs up walls. The only cat senses she doesn’t pick up are the use of the litter box and the desire to lick herself clean. Either that, or as her friend Sally would probably say, “the camera just doesn’t go there, sistah’.”
Still not used to her powers, the first night as a cat plays out on autopilot. After stealing a motorcycle she breaks into a jewelry store that’s in the process of being robbed, defeats the thugs and loots the place clean; with all the time in the world of course, because this is one of those movies where police don’t immediately respond to the sounds of shotguns being fired from inside a jewelry store at 3:30 AM.
But Patience returns the jewels the next day and continues seeing Detective Lone who also happens to be leading the mysterious Catwoman investigation. Like Spider-Man, she is being blamed for the city’s recent crime wave.
And now I will stop comparing this film to “Spider-Man.”
Patience and Detective Lone make a good couple. He doesn’t yet know she’s the Catwoman, not even after she beats him in a sexually charged game of basketball in front of the schoolchildren he was visiting. He will learn the truth eventually, but that part of the plot is another laughing matter.
When she’s not spending time with Lone, Patience is trying to figure out what’s been happening to her and who’s the one responsible for her death. Fortunately for her, a Yahoo! search for “cat. women” yields unlimited information. And what isn’t supplied by the Internet is told by the crazy cat lady (Frances Conroy), a character whom until now I thought only existed in The Simpsons. A former college professor denied tenure because we live in a “Male’s society” the crazy cat lady now lives in her inner-city home with her many cats just waiting for someone like Patience to stumble onto her front porch. She explains, among other things, that Patience is now a Catwoman, part of a long line of cat women dating back to ancient Egyptian times. "Cat women are not contained by the rules of society," she says. "You are a cat woman. Accept it, child."
And accept it she does while pursuing George and Laurel with her newly found powers. Laurel is bitter having been recently replaced as the company’s face model by a younger woman. She’s the main villain, and Sharon Stone has fun with the role if nothing else. "I'm a woman. I'm used to doing all kinds of things I don't want to do!" she mutters during the final showdown at the Hedare headquarters; a large gray structure with a glass ceiling perfect for final showdowns with villains. In addition, this place has those large fans in the walls that churn slowly for no reason other than that evil corporations have large fans in the walls that churn slowly. So you know this is a legitimate place for final showdowns.
“Catwoman” was directed by the Frenchman, Pitof, apparently unaware that few directors with one-word names become successful. His film is visually engaging, that is up until the point when the pace moves at speeds fast enough to hide the fact that Catwoman’s actions scenes are mostly the work of CGI and male stunt doubles. I doubt Halle Berry spent much time at all preparing for the physical part of her role.
The soundtrack is decent with its high-energy techno beats but only until the film becomes dependent on it. All of sudden Mis Teeq’s Scandalous starts up and Catwoman begins jumping skyscrapers to this summer’s hot beat for the duration of the entire song:
So, so, so scandalous. You know you wanna sing with us (baby)
That's why you know you should be scared of us (baby)
The editing is poor and I stopped counting errors after seeing a villain crash through the Hedare H-logo, shattering the lights only to see them re-lit in the next frame while the corpse remained indented in its grave from the long fall.
And twice this summer the lead character in a film takes a poll before cutting out the lights. In the headache-inducing “Chronicles of Riddick” Riddick made sure “no one’s afraid of the dark” before killing the switch, and in “Catwoman” she does the same thing. Why oh why is dialogue never taken seriously in summer movies? “Catwoman” isn’t worth exploring such a question.
I don’t think the film ever tries to be serious but it’s hard to tell because Halle Berry certainly appears to be trying; a lot more so than Sharon Stone. How she was able to deliver her lines with a straight face is impressive. Facing death, Stone’s Laurel tells her, “It’s over!” Calmly Catwoman replies, “It’s over-time!” And whadda’ you know, the fight continues. I’ll let you see for yourself how Laurel is able to keep up with Catwoman.
Like every comic book movie, this film sets itself up for a sequel. Catwoman’s last line in the movie is, “Now my journey begins.” But depending on “Catwoman’s” success, or lack thereof, the prospect of a “Catwoman 2” looks as dark as the leather in her kinky outfit.
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