Catwoman (Warner Brothers, 2004)



If all you need in a movie is Halle Berry in a tight, revealing leather outfit cracking a whip, stop reading this right now and go see Catwoman. If you care about anything else in a movie - like plot, acting, originality, or excitement - see anything else.

While many recent superhero movies are designed for an older demographic that cares about fidelity to the source material, Catwoman throws out all the character's history for a thoroughly clichéd tale. Halle Berry is Patience Phillips, a harried, insecure woman who's bullied and unappreciated at her cosmetics job and ignored by her rude neighbors. When she stumbles across a plot to release toxic, addictive beauty cream - honest - she's flushed out a pipe by the bad guys and left for dead. But a cat she rescued gives her superhuman feline powers, such as lightning-fast reflexes, perfect balance, amazing sight, and the ability to scale walls with ease. (She also becomes an expert motorcyclist, a kick-ass martial artist, and an expert with a whip. I didn't know these were feline qualities; then again, I have a dog.) After a pathetically brief lesson from Ophelia (Frances Conroy) that cats existed in history and there's been a long line of cat-women, Patience dresses like a dominatrix and sets off for thievery, revenge, justice, and numerous opportunities to strut around.

There are other characters in the movie, all one-dimensional. There's Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone), the head of the cosmetics company whose one emotion is calculated evil. There's Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), the cute cop with the sensitive side (he works with children, awwwww) who dates Patience while pursuing Catwoman. There's Sally (Alex Borstein), Patience's friend whose in-your-face antics are supposed to make her the comic relief, except they're not funny. And there are plenty of incompetent cops, incompetent thugs, and good-looking bystanders.

To say Catwoman doesn't take itself seriously is an understatement: There's nothing here to take seriously. Halle Berry does two one-note performances: She's either a nervous wallflower or an ultra-confident vamp. (The movie never misses a chance to hammer in her duality.) The fight scenes are as much CGI as choreography. The feline antics are camp: Halle hisses at dogs, scarfs down tuna and sushi, and, in a probable low for the actress, lovingly rubs a catnip toy all over her face. There isn't a single good line of dialogue, and the plot is of the sort that makes people believe comic books (and their movies) are for juveniles. And there's something ironic about a movie that has its villains obsessed with beauty, yet never misses an opportunity to ogle its beautiful star.

Halle Berry has less screen time as Storm in the X-Men movies, yet she plays the role with dignity and competence. In Catwoman she has more time, more dialogue, more silliness (and a lot more skin), with more disastrous results. She looks great as Catwoman, but that is Catwoman's sole virtue; and it's not nearly enough to carry a movie.




[James Lynch]