Catwoman

Game over? It's OVERTIME!
★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2004
Director: 
Pitof
Starring: 
Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Lambert Wilson
The Setup: 
Version of Catwoman that has nothing to do with Batman.
Discussion: 

I saw this at the theater, when it was getting a rap for being awful, which it surely is (as well as completely misguided and more than a little flat-out stupid), but was surprised to find it also super fun. With Catwoman making a reappearance in The Dark Knight Rises and my recent re-watching of Batman Returns, I got interested in seeing this again.

We open with credits showing Egyptian imagery with cats, then illustrations--many of which one suspects we're doctored for this movie--showing us that many, many ancient cultures had, you know, cats. It's the old trick of straining for some kind of relevance by showing us that what we're about to see actually has a LONG historical legacy. Ancient cultures HAD CATS. Okay? So there you go. Then we see a woman unconscious in water, and have a voice-over telling us that the day she died is also the day she started to live. Now, I'll tell you up front that this movie had disastrous test screenings, and was subject to numerous re-shoots and re-editings, and one suspects that this early voice-over is a late addition. Halle Berry is Patience Phillips (pointedly NOT Selina Kyle, the Catwoman of Batman), who is a visual designer for this cosmetics company, and working on ads for Beau-Line, this new face cream about to reach market. The numerous pronunciations of "Beau-Line" throughout the movie are a source of amusement, with some saying "Bow-Leen," others "Byou-Leen," and others "Bo-Line."

Patience has a kooky overweight cubicle-mate, Sally, who constantly applies the stuff while Patience pointedly refuses it. This time I noticed numerous points in which Patience's natural approach to grooming is criticized (which is total bullshit as she's as made up and styled as any supermodel, just in a "natural" way), while we tsk-tsk at those concerned with physical appearance. Sharon Stone is the owner of the company, Laurel, who is stepping down as the sole model for the company, due to her age, and being replaced with a younger model, about which she seems to harbor some resentment. She is married to Lambert Wilson (remember him?) as George, but sadly it seems that the love has left their relationship. Patience is called up to his office because we need an excuse to jump-start the story, I mean, because her designs for the Beau-Line ads are all wrong. She has to re-do them by midnight the next night or she'll be fired.

By now we've noticed numerous fly-arounds of this city, which look just a trifle off, and after a while one realizes that they're all CGI. It's not Gotham City for sure, it's some made-up everycity. Patience is in her fabulous, vastly spacious apartment and frustrated, but powerless, about the neighbor who has loud biker parties every night. She looks down into the alley and sees a cat sitting on a Ducati motorcycle. The next day she is painting in her apartment when the cat comes in, goes out, and sits on a precipice outside her window. Patience climbs out the window to rescue the cat, standing on a rickety air conditioner that starts to give way, when suddenly super-cop Benjamin Bratt as Tom Lone pulls up in his car to rescue her. You'll be amazed at how quick Tom is able to climb all those flights of stairs, break into her apartment, and grab her, because all that happens in under two seconds. Makes us question who the real superhero is here. Anyway, they meet, when she suddenly realizes she has to be to work (yeah, I thought you had some make-or-break deadline?) and runs out, dropping her wallet so that he can find her and ask her out later, which he does, featuring some out-of-place "comedy" as Patience's cube-mates Sally and another multi-racial gay best friend obviously listen in.

Now, earlier, when Patience was called up to George's office, her dress and nails were criticized. Now Sally tells her that she must shave her legs before her date (are they hairy?). This is part of the thread I mentioned earlier that, despite Halle Berry looking like, you know, Halle Berry, she is constantly being called out as some sort of ungroomed hippie chick, and we're all bemoaning how awful it is to be obsessed with appearance and makeup, despite the fact that Catwoman is all glam and Berry's then-status as the face of Revlon is very much in evidence. She stays late at the office completing her revised designs, then is told that it's too late to messenger them over, so she has to hand-deliver them to the plant.

Now, I just happen to work in marketing, alongside visual designers, and the whole concept that Patience has to hand-deliver ANYTHING is ludicrous, as even at that time she would just email it or post it to a common server. But not more ludicrous than the concept that the design for ads for this massive product launch are being done two days before it goes to market. Look, it's August now, and I'm working on campaigns for CHRISTMAS. Later we'll see that trucks carrying the first shipments of this face cream are departing in the dead of night hours before they are to appear in stores. It's just like... what do people THINK?

Anyway, the plant is located out on this island, and Patience goes out there and, unable to get in, finds an unlocked door to the plant and starts snooping deep, deep into this industrial factory. Uh honey, I don't think the marketing department is located in there, you know? She overhears Laurel being told that Beau-Line causes women's face to become all nasty if they stop using it, but Laurel doesn't care. They hear Patience listening, there is a long chase (LONG chase), and finally Patience escapes into a drainage pipe and is flushed off a cliff to her death. Please don't think too deeply about how this two-story building just above sea level somehow has a 500-foot cliff on the other side.

So Patience ends up dead on some desolate island, where she is suddenly surrounded by cats. Let's not speculate on why all these cats are hanging out on a wet island devoid of life and vegetation. The cat she saw earlier creeps up on her body and kisses her, breathing its greenish cat-breath into her. See that pic of the cat right there? That's to give you a baseline of the level of CGI we're dealing with here. It ain't Avatar.

Now here's where poor Halle has to start doing all sorts of ridiculous, "cat-like" things from now until the end of the movie, and it just kind of makes you really sad for her. She wakes, and has "cat-vision" (she can see tiny bugs) and "cat-hearing," neither of which are referenced again for the rest of the movie. She had to paw at the bugs like a cat, then creep through the streets in a "cat-like" way, and it's enough to make YOU embarrassed for her. We then have the first sight of our CGI Halle as she leaps up onto her fire escape and into her window. We'll come back to this, big-time. Anyway, Halle next wakes in the morning, sleeping on a shelf. She has, apparently while unconscious, changed into a cute little sweater-and-upscale-sweats ensemble.

She, despite being late to work, goes to return the cat that keeps hanging around to the address on its collar, which is this one cute little bungalow-style house in the middle of a bunch of skyscrapers. The crazy cat lady is Ophelia, who is younger than you might imagine your average old sage / creepy cat lady to be, and she tells Patience that the cat, Midnight, chose her, and the whole thing on the precipice was a test, and just as Patience is walking out, Ophelia tosses her a ball of catnip, and now Halle does the next in her series of Really Stupid Things as she rubs the catnip all over her face and generally freaks out about it. Things like this just keep happening, and you keep just saying "More? Poor Halle."

Although now might be a good time to discuss that, Oscar notwithstanding, Halle Berry is NOT a good actress. In fact, she's pretty awful. She seems simply unable to seem natural, and everything she does is done with just an extra touch that, to my mind, overdoes it. She wants to extra sure that EVERYONE knows how well she is acting, and that NO ONE can miss the emotions she is trying to convey.

Anyway, Patience goes back to work, where she is sleeping on her desk when George comes up to scream at her for not getting the designs in. She alternates between sassily telling him off and suddenly being sorry, which we are to understand is her switching between personalities. She finally tells him off and gets fired, whereupon the whole office applauds. She's then walking along with Sally, who suddenly faints. Boy--eventful day! Sally is taken to the hospital, while Patience tracks down Tom, who is giving a lecture on being upright citizens to a group of schoolchildren. They end up on this basketball court, where Patience uses her new cat moves to beat him in erotic doubles basketball playing. Soon after poor Halle has to hiss at a dog, and next is seen slurping tuna out of eight (8) large-size cans.

That night, the bikers across the way are having another loud party, and don't respond to Patience's plea to turn it down. So she breaks down the door, destroys the speakers and beats up on the biker. She repairs home, where she starts hacking away at her own hair, pulls a leather ensemble out of her closet, steals the Ducati, and goes on the prowl. She goes to the jewelry store where she saw a nice necklace earlier, and--why, there just happens to be a robbery in progress. She comes in and stops the robbery, showing us that she now knows some form of very spinny martial arts. This is also where we get a really good sight of the CGI Catwoman jumping around and... well, it would be nice if it worked better. Basically, the movie made the decision to have live Halle transition into CGI Halle, and perform all kinds of jumps and walking up walls and such that no human could do. The problem is that CGI at the time simply wasn't ready, and what you're looking at quite resembles a video game. The are long sections of the movie that feature this CGI character jumping around, transitioning in and out of live action, to try to sell the illusion, and though you get used to it, it takes you out of the movie every time. Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises also transforms to CGI to make leaps and such, it's just that CGI has made great advances in these ten years. Aside from the silly things poor Halle has to do, and say, this CGI is the movie's second-biggest liability.

So Patience, although she hacked away at her own hair, has ended up with a fresh-from-the-salon haircut (quite ill-advised, but whatever) and is constantly rocking her Revlon stay-on luscious red lipstick. She Googles "cats" and finds a lot of the same imagery that made up our credit sequence, then goes back to visit the crazy cat lady, who spills the secrets. Basically, she is dead. Midnight the magical cat breathed cat-life into her, and now she's a Catwoman. Turns out there have been several Catwomen throughout history, including, as seen in a photo amongst the pile, Michelle Pfeiffer from Batman Returns. Pretty much the only intriguing thing here is that Patience is some sort of undead zombie, but that whole angle is quickly dropped.

We next see her strutting along in her fully-realized Catwoman outfit, Halle totally overdoing it as usual, as the camera circles up her legs to see rips in her pants exposing the flesh of her ass, and around her bare midriff to admire her boobs stuck into her leather push-up bra. But it's not exploitative, because Patience has found her power, and can exploit herself if she feels like it. SEE how progressive this movie is? You can dress in sexualized ways for men, or you can dress in sexualized ways for yourself--SEE the wide range of expression of have,young women? What a glorious new day of liberation.

Then Patience and Tom are on another romantic date at an amusement park set up in a vacant lot, when--ferris wheel disaster! They're stuck on top when the whole thing starts to break down, and Tom leaps over the side and climbs down to save the whole thing. It's like, wait: WHO'S the superhero here? But there is a CHILD who is frightened, and about to fall out and become little but a paste of organs and viscera on the sidewalk, and Patience climbs down and saves him, then: scene ends. This is the first of numerous scenes that just kind of STOP without the little moment of resolution that most movie scenes have. You'll also note that, despite this movie's flailing attempts to appear progressive, female superheroes must have a female villain, and don't save everyone on the ferris wheel, but save CHILDREN.

Now Catwoman breaks into Laurel's house and we have a tiny confrontation. Laurel says that she can help Catwoman get George, the real villain, and tells her to find him at the, umm, performance. The performance seems to be a Cirque du Soleil kind of thing, except apparently all that happens, for presumably 60 or more minutes, is these people in frilly tutus swing out over the audience, and swing back. Swing out, swing back. Out. Back. George and the Beau-Line replacement model are there and he tells her "Don't think--ever," which is meant to show us that Catwoman fights chauvinist bastards like him. Catwoman shows up and--OMG, we have ANOTHER pronunciation of "Beau-Line," this time from Halle herself, as "bYO-Leen." Catwoman ends up on stage briefly, and here's where the movie scores 100 points (too bad it's already down by 3,760) by having an insert where we see the audience clapping with delight at seeing her. That simple second of people seeing Catwoman as really fun adds a lot of the sense of fun of the movie, which--even though I've been dressing it down--it has in spades, and makes it enjoyable and watchable, despite itself.

Up in the scaffolding, Catwoman and Tom (who seems to be the only cop on the entire police force?) have a little fight and flirt, in which the groaner phrase "cat got your tongue?" is uttered. There were many more awful puns, but I blocked them out. I have to say it is a little fun the way Catwoman is able to toy with anyone who tries to trap her. Eventually she ends up backstage, surrounded by cops, holding a live wire. She asks "Who can see in the dark?" applies the wire to a circuit board, killing the lights, says "I can,” and... scene ends! That's IT! Um, I GUESS she got away...

SPOILERS > > >
So Patience and Tom have another date, one in which poor Halle is required to slurp up several pieces of sushi. By now we've noticed that this movie is trying to walk a fine line between being a totally whitebread blockbuster, and also really BLACK, because it stars Halle Berry. So every now and then she whips out a black catchphrase like "My bad!" and it stands out like a sore thumb. You also have the soundtrack, which is all R&B (though not any of that nasty rap), and frequent soulful moans are heard even when songs are not playing. Then there's the Latino boyfriend, because we cannot have Halle Berry dating a white boyfriend, but a black boyfriend would dangerously tilt the whole thing toward being a "black film," which would limit its audience. And finally you have the white friend, Sally, who occasionally says blackish things, which, though Patence's tolerance of them, serves to position Patience as more black. Nothing more to say, just kind of interesting.

Anyway, after dinner, Patience and Tom repair to her place to do the do (not shown), and as he's walking in the middle of the night, he finds a diamond-encrusted Catwoman nail. He then swipes a glass that has a lip print, and takes it into the lab, where--are you READY for this?--they match it with a lipstick lip print from TOM'S CHEEK. Yep, he's still got a big lip print right on his cheek, which I'm not sure was there in the scene before and... hmmm, for that to still be there and so readable, their lovemaking must have been pretty tame, right?

Meanwhile, she heads over to Laurel's house and finds, in the one good twist of the movie, that Laurel has shot George and is framing Catwoman. This is about the only time that Sharon Stone is any fun in this and... what happened? How could the Sharon Stone that was such a pip in the remake of Diabolique--sure, she was making a comedy while everyone else was trying to make a thriller, but still--be such a bore here? Maybe because she's smart enough to realize that this was stunt casting? That she was being trotted out as a tiny bit of a joke? Who knows, but she's holding back--or being held back--and it's too bad. The cops are called and, once again, the scene just plain ends.

So Tom is in Patience's apartment when she gets home and hauls her in. They are locked in an interrogation room (please don't consider whether a guy having an affair with a suspect would be allowed to interrogate her, thanks. Remember, Tom is the city's ONLY cop). They have some relationship talk, in which she begs him to believe that she has a split personality, but by the way, Catwoman didn't do it either, but he's forced to lock her away. Midnight the cat squeezes through the bars to see her, and gives Patience the idea to squeeze through the bars of her cell, which you should not notice are extra wide. There is one actually good line in this film, however, when Patience says to the cat "You know, Lassie would have brought me a key." Anyway, she gets out and heads over to the tower where Laurel is.

Now, all along here we're supposed to understand that Laurel was the pretty model who is being callously tossed aside by George, who actually has all the power, but it doesn't actually work, because from scene one, it's obvious that Laurel has the power, and George is her pawn. It's too bad, because the other way it would have had some shading and we'd have had some sympathy for Laurel, but she's a shark from the moment we meet her, and the idea of her being in total control is never in question. Anyway, after Catwoman rips out the wheels of the ten (10) trucks that are to deliver a nationwide supply of Beau-Line, at midnight the night before launch, Tom, the city's only cop (his last name IS "Lone,") shows up, gets shot, and now believes Patience. Then it's woman on woman with Halle and Sharon.

So the side effect of Beau-Line is that it has made Laurel's skin so tough it is "like living marble," and cannot be damaged, nor can she feel pain. I have to say this is a not-bad idea for a supervillain, and there's something poetic about a beautiful woman who actually becomes a statue, who cannot be hurt, who freezes into her image, rather than the reality of a woman. The bonus side effect is that Halle can whale on Sharon really hard and not to any damage, leading to lots of hilarious bonks and konks when Laurel goes flying into a wall or whatever. She also gets thrown clear across the room several hilarious times, and it's just all good fun. Compare to a few minutes later when she is whaling on Patience with a pipe, and it all seems a little jarring.

So it looks like curtains for Catwoman, and Laurel says "Game over!" to which Catwoman replies: "It's overtime!" which I had just plumb clean forgot from my first viewing of this film, and is, I'm sure, in some compendium of the most idiotic repartee in films from 1900-2012. Catwoman scratches Laurel's face which, inexplicably, now CAN be damaged, and Laurel hangs from a girder, where she is able to see her damaged face in a window. She falls, and it could be argued that she purposely let's go rather than be ugly, and I'm going to guess that in a previous version, that's exactly what happened, until someone whispered in their ear that it isn't very women-positive. Anyway, Laurel is dead now.

Then more ill-advised voice-over, wherein Patience cold-dumps Tom! After all that, and the fact that he's somewhat of a superhero himself, and they seemed pretty well-matched... but no, Catwoman needs to be free. She struts off into the digital landscape, and that's it.
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, much as I've dumped on this film--and there is a lot to dump on it for--it does what many contemporary films don't do, which is remember to be FUN. And being fun can make one forgive a lot of flaws. The bad CGI Catwoman is always distracting, but it also plants this thing solidly as a total fantasy, making all of its other flaws not so bad, as it's all a fantasy. Thus when we have ridiculous things like Patience having to deliver the designs hours before they go to press kind of work, because it's not trying to be realistic. And cheesy as the CGI is, it kind of works, because it shows Catwoman as having superhuman abilities, and gee, think how embarrassing it would be to watch poor Halle have to be trying to act catlike while flying around on wires. The poor woman has enough on her plate with her tuna slurping and pawing at things.

That said, one has to notice how female superheroes almost always have to exist in a story that verges on silliness. The evil plot has to be about face cream and beauty and appearance. And a female hero can ONLY face a female villain. That way we can have--as we MUST have--a catfight. So much as the actors yakety-yak about women finding their power in the "making-of," there are still several limitations put on the idea of female heroes. Her story can't really be that serious--no world domination schemes as a male hero usually faces--and no male villains. Nope, just cute little stories for little fillies.

So there you go, a pretty terrible movie that is redeemed by being a fun little hoot. Lucky for us there won't be any more, but if you feel like something silly that you can laugh at and go to bed still in a pretty good mood, here you are.

Should you watch it: 

If you want a fun and silly little bad movie.