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Review: “Catwoman”

For my first two reviews, I’m going to do a bit of cheating, but hear me out!

These reviews are special, as they were what set me in the direction of being an aspiring film critic in the first place.  See, my third year of college was a bit of a turning point for me, academically. I had spent a good portion of my time at Arizona State University as a Creative Writing major who secretly couldn’t make up his mind. When I discovered that the Department of English required their majors to take not one, but two years of foreign language, I knew I had to bail. Korean was a hard language to learn in the first year alone, and a second year would’ve likely wrecked my GPA. After a bit of exploration, I discovered the Bachelor’s of Interdisciplinary Studies degree, and chose to transition into that, with concentrations in Writing and Communication (a subject I chose based on prior electives and, mostly ,just to fulfill that second concentration, I admit).

What a horrible, horrible costume for a horrible, horrible movie!

One of the upper division classes I was encouraged to take was ENG 494 – Review Writing. The class ended up being one of, if not my absolute favorites in college, and the professor, Dr. Sarah Duerden, was definitely my favorite professor, and she gets good marks on Rate My Professor, too!

The review I post here is unedited from the paper I turned in, with appropriate modifications to the format to duplicate it on this page. The assignment for this was to choose a “specialty” review, meaning one of our favorites and one that we thought we were especially good at. Naturally, after my review of The Simpsons Movie, I went with the film review again.

This review in particular was instrumental in Dr. Duerden encouraging me to continue on this path, so it’s particularly special — at least to me! For the review formatting, I chose to emulate the style of a print publication’s site, The Boston Globe. I chose it because their longer form reviews and semi-casual tone allowed me both the space and restraints to rant against one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, Catwoman! As with my previous college review, this is an unedited copy of the final draft:

Catwoman   (1.5/4)


Movie type: Action

MPAA rating: PG-13: for action violence and some sensuality

Year of release: 2004

Run time: 104 minutes

Directed by: “Pitof”

Cast: HalleBerry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, LambertWilson, Alex Borstein,Frances Conroy

Liberation through bondage gear is far from purrrrrfect…

by CJ Stewart

7/23/04

Oh, HalleBerry.  As an otherwise likeable actress, movie goers have begun to tire of Hollywood’s overuse of you these days.  Ever since becoming the first black woman to receive the Oscar for Best Actress, Berry’s popularity has certainly surged.  Now she can have pretty much any role she wants, too!  Bond Girl.  X-Man.  Mental patient.  She probably could’ve talked her way into one of the Lord of the Rings films if she wanted!  Why, then, did she choose to explore such new lows with Catwoman, a movie more concerned with cavorting its lead actress around in a furry fetishist’s dream come true than depicting anything of real substance?

Berry plays Patience Phillips, an (apparently) frumpy artist whose timidity allows people to step all over her, especially while at work for a cosmetics company.  Accompanying her on this journey of female liberation is her plump, sassy best friend Sally (MadTV’s Alex Borstein) and the so-gay-he-might-as-well-be-a-woman co-worker, who is so underused, I can’t even remember his name.  I only mention him because he’s about as cliché as saying something is cliché, and this movie is filled with clichés!  There’s Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) – “man sandwich,” as No-Name calls him – a police officer who saves Patience’s life in one of the most asinine meet cutes in the history of cinema.

She’s out on a ledge, trying to save a mysterious cat, when he sees her dangling on the edge of reason and deduces she’s suicidal.  After misinterpreting her explanation about the cat, he somehow climbs up three flights of stairs, races into her apartment and to her window in mere seconds, catching her just in the nick of time.

Surely they must be planning a spin-off with Bratt as The Flash!  Of course, none of the Flashes looked anything like Bratt, but as Catwoman proves, respect to the source material isn’t exactly a priority here.  That cat plot point, for example, which is revealed to be an elaborate test to see if Patience has what it takes to be one of history’s many great Catwomen – though I question the cat’s judgment since it was Lone who clearly did all the work!

Patience discovers that her company’s new skin cream actually deteriorates skin, and she is violently silenced.  Luckily, the magical cat shows up again and breathes new, untamed life into Patience’s corpse.  She now finds herself with such catlike powers as extreme agility, the ability to run along walls, kick her boyfriend’s butt at basketball (a definite no-no, according to Borstein’s modern take on Ethel Mertz), and consume more dolphin-safe, canned tuna and glasses of cream than any woman wishing to keep an eye on her athletic figure should.

Patience finds the strength to unleash the sassy, schizophrenic feline within her once mousy self, getting anything and everything she wants, especially revenge, and she does this in one of the most garish costumes ever conceived.  She starts off well enough in a sexy, yet respectable leather jacket and pants combo, but the strappy, S&M hooker get-up she settles on is hilariously trashy and impractical, even for a superwoman.

Catwoman desperately wants to be a liberating, feminist version of the Spider-Man films – complete with obligatory wire acrobatics and superpowers (which Catwoman lacks in every other portrayal) – but when you have a plot that revolves around an intelligent, artistically gifted woman discovering and pursuing her impulsive inner dominatrix, you’re likely to put off more than a few women.

Did I mention that the story revolves around makeup?  Granted, it’s dangerous makeup, but the villain (Sharon Stone), an aging supermodel whose skin is appropriately turned hard as marble, provides a weak motive for keeping it in production.  Unlike the Joker’s stunt in the first Batman film, whose tampered makeup put a deadly, creepy grin on its users that fit his twisted M.O., Stone’s villainess just wants more recognition and money.  Never mind the likelihood of the skin cream’s deteriorating effects being swiftly discovered by the FDA!  Of course, I’m assuming they’re unlike Bratt’s oblivious Lone, who can’t even seem to piece together the two most obvious pieces of evidence pointing to Catwoman’s identity on his own.

Berry, at least, seems to be having a good time.  She not only helped design the asset-revealing costume herself, she also seems to enjoy delivering the lazy plot’s campy lines with heaps of exaggerated gusto.  There was likely a lot of time to relax when scenes called for her shiny CGI counterpart to take over, too!  Spider-Man faced similar problems, but there was the added benefit of his being a character known for being that bouncy and acrobatic.  He also benefited from a costume that didn’t require the rendering of so much plasticine skin.

Catwoman is just a terrible movie and offers the cheap kind of thrills and sex appeal that you would expect from the hookers its anti-heroine dresses like.  You’ll likely feel cheated after having experienced it, and if you enjoyed it, well, then you should probably feel that much worse about your experience!

(As with my A.V. Club-style review of The Simpsons Movie, this review does not necessarily reflect the perspective of The Boston Globe nor any of its writers, though it is strange that, once again, the review I wrote, according to Rotten Tomatoes, is in line with Boston Globe writer Wesley Morris’ original review, which is, sadly, now a dead link.)

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5

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