In the new film, "Catwoman", we are re-introduced to a yet another popular character sprung straight from comic books – though this year's version is not a villain but a hero. Still, she's not exactly a lap cat and with mighty big paws to fill – Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer – Academy Award-winner, Halle Berry, takes a whip crack at it.
Berry is Patience Phillips, a graphic artist at a cosmetics company who dies and becomes reborn as half-cat, half-incredibly-good-looking-woman. Though it's fun to watch her frolic on New York rooftops decked out in tight-fitting costume, one can't help but wonder if this movie wants to be "Spiderman" when it grows up. Just the budget for lip gloss alone could have been better spent on stronger writing for character development.
Mind you, it is satisfying to watch the main character lose her mild-mannered Patience and become a violent, angry sex kitten with diamond-tipped claws. And that outfit! Lordy, the leathery tight blackness of it demands strutting – I'm sure S&M fans everywhere are going to squirm in the dark and the repeated camera shots of Berry's perfect derriere say it all. In contrast, I wouldn't have minded more close ups of Toby Maguire's buns but those filmmakers thought it best to focus on complex emotions – a concept that the creators of "Catwoman" only half-attempt.
For example, when she meets Ophelia, the neighborhood's knowledgeable but creepy cat lady, played by "Six Feet Under" star, Frances Conroy, all the weirdness is explained. Ophelia tells her, though she is technically dead, she is "finally free to escape a life of being caged up." Really? How has she been caged up? We know nothing of her background or family life. So she hates her job and needs a boyfriend – so what? Who doesn't? Except for close friend and co-worker, Sally, played by MAD TV's talented, Alex Borstein, and a burgeoning romance with Detective Tom Lone, played by the yummy Benjamin Bratt, Patience is pretty one-dimensional, a point even she admits during a dinner date with Lone.
As we all know, a superhero is only as powerful as the arch nemesis they face. In this case, we get George Hedare, played way over the top by French actor, Lambert Wilson, and his wife, Laurel, played by the shabby chic, Sharon Stone. The premise itself is loaded with statements, ironically, about the beauty industry and its negative effect on women. (Love how Spiderman's plot revolves around inventions and technology and the Catwoman premise is about a toxic beauty cream. Anyway . . .)
As my movie date observed, "Catwoman" was a little too obvious and the cat jokes were insufferable. Sure, it's cute that she orders "cream, straight up" in a bar and runs in fear from the rain but did Spiderman need to rely on pest control jokes and an unnatural fear of rolled up magazines? My point is that "Catwoman" could have been better, stronger and deeper while still retaining all the purring sexuality that it deserves. Why the rush? As noted in the film, a cat doesn't come when called anyway, only when it feels like it.
© 2004 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 7/28/04