Movie Review: Catwoman
By Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
"Catwoman" arrives in the theaters as the "Showgirls" of superhero movies.
This is not a compliment. A vacuous lingerie show posing as feminism, it's the biggest movie hairball this side of "Garfield."
Halle Berry plays Patience Philips, an art designer at cosmetics conglomerate Hedare Beauty who gets bumped off by boss Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone) after learning that the company's new wrinkle cream is not only addictive but also hideously damaging to its users. (This is surely a metaphor for Botox, and possibly for this movie's effect on Berry's career.)
Mysteriously, Patience is resurrected as a Catwoman, one in an ancient line of independent-minded she-warriors whose purpose is never explained or explored. Perhaps they just like the leather getup.
Single-named director Pitof, previously the visual-effects wiz for films such as "The City of Lost Children" and "Alien: Resurrection," makes Berry look good. His cinematography sizzles and his computer-generated environments blend in nicely with physical elements. He's a confident, talented visual craftsman, but his feeble handle on drama neuters any emotional connection we might have with Patience with or her love interest-cum-scratching post, Detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt).
Particularly obnoxious is "Catwoman" posing as a feminist call to arms. Screenwriters John Brancato, Michael Ferris and John Rogers (notice, all male) seem to comment on society's obsession with unattainable beauty at any price. In fact, the cosmetics industry that feeds on and profits from female anxiety creates the movie's villainess, Laurel Hedare (get it? "He dare").
Enraged at being replaced as the company spokesmodel by her husband's (Lambert Wilson) new fling, Hedare wants blood. When she's backed into a corner, Laurel snarls, "I'm a woman. I'm used to doing all kinds of things I don't want to do!"
But here again, the filmmakers perpetrate a false trope. Playing on a strange, unwritten rule in the superhero genre, we have a female hero pitted against a female villain - the implication being that superpowered women aren't equal to superpowered men.
Whose behind did Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) kick in the last "Batman" movie? Poison Ivy (played by Uma Thurman). In "Supergirl," caped star Helen Slater went toe-to-toe with Faye Dunaway. Only in 1992's "Batman Returns" does Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman seek revenge on crime boss Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken - a menacing figure, but still not a male supervillain.
A feminist reading of "Catwoman" would take issue with the recurring choice of pitting scantily clad women against other sexy, flesh-baring "bad girls."
Worse yet is the filmmakers' use of feline metaphor. The catsuit almost always underscores the character's feminine power, sensuality, danger and grace. Yet Pitof makes the metaphor literal, endowing his Catwoman with enhanced agility, sight and sense of smell. This leads to embarrassing sequences of Berry hissing, messily eating from tins of tuna scattered on her bed and, worst of all, rolling a ball of catnip all over her face. Thankfully, we don't have to watch her chase mice or deal with hairballs, and for this small favor we can be grateful.
At least, that is, until the outtakes are released on DVD.
Directed by Pitof; screenplay by John Brancato, Michael Ferris, John Rogers; photographed by Thierry Arbogast; music by Klaus Badelt; production design by Bill Brzeski; edited by Sylvie Landra; produced by Denise Di Novi, Edward McDonnell. A Warner Bros. release; opens Friday, July 23. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: PG-13 (action violence and some sensuality).
Patience Philips/Catwoman - Halle Berry
Laurel Hedare - Sharon Stone
Tom Lone - Benjamin Bratt
George Hedare - Lambert Wilson
Ophelia Powers - Frances Conroy