On July 23, 2004, Warner Bros. unveiled Halle Berry in Catwoman, a would-be blockbuster that disappointed with critics and audiences and grossed $82 million globally. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
If nothing else, Catwoman is the first superhero action movie to focus on consumer protection. Because the evil its heroine is asked to thwart lies not in treacherous robots or a nuclear bomb or a madman threatening world domination but rather bad cosmetics. It’s hard to understand why Warner Bros. Pictures and the film’s producers want to stake a potential franchise on a battle over bad makeup — albeit a cream that causes faces to drip away, similar to what those Nazis suffered in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Halle Berry makes an appealing heroine, if one prefers kitsch over true erotica. But wasn’t it only 12 years ago that Michelle Pfeiffer strutted her feline stealth as a much more authentic Catwoman in Batman Returns? Berry’s sex kitten, we are told, is “a Catwoman for the 21st century,” which apparently means take a script suffering from an absence of logic — credited to, or better, blamed on four writers — cast an Oscar-winning actress and hand the enterprise over to a French digital effects maven named Pitof, whose only seeming interest is the movie’s visual design.
The result is not the train wreck one might anticipate from surfing the Net. The catfights, overacting and Berry’s swagger in a skimpy, tight, leather outfit that would be right at home at a Hookers Ball make for campy fun. This Catwoman seems destined to join Showgirls and its ilk as a fast-starting and even faster-fading theatrical release that could enjoy an afterlife as a midnight movie and video/DVD item where viewers supply alternate dialogue. Certainly the scripted dialogue makes you long for a mute button.
The heroine is not Selena Kyle of the Batman comics and movies but Patience Phillips. In other words, she is not that Catwoman but some other Catwoman.
Patience labors as a talented but often abused graphics designer for a large cosmetics firm run by megalomaniac tycoon George Hedare (a stiff, unctuous Lambert Wilson) and his wife and company model/spokeswoman Laurel (Sharon Stone generously bathed in soft light). Patience possesses an annoying best friend in Sally (Alex Borstein) and a mysterious companion in the form of a cat that lurks outside her loft window.
Inadvertently, Patience overhears a conversation that reveals the toxicity of the company’s new anti-aging cream.
To silence her permanently, company goons flush her through factory tunnels into the sea, where through unexplained metaphysics she washes up on a rocky outcropping surrounded by feral cats. One is her strange neighbor, which breathes life back into the presumably dead woman. Soon she is eating tuna out of cans and hissing at dogs. More importantly, she leaps and prowls through the night in peekaboo leather with a mean whip.
While it takes far too long to get to this point, the movie does pick up once female empowerment takes over. Girls, at least very young ones, will thrill to the role reversals, and guys will dig the revealing leather costume (even as fans of the comic books will disparage the disguise). Even here, though, one might wish Berry were more catlike. Since when do cats sashay their hips? And because Berry is not an experienced martial artist, Pitof must stage her fights in quick cuts with ample visual effects.
Then again, Pitof is predisposed to visual technology, as the entire movie is tricked out with digital dazzle and cameras gliding through a cityscape that looks designed for a video game. The effect is not so much that of watching a movie as a virtual reality.
Speaking of role reversals, Benjamin Bratt as Patience’s boyfriend cop, Tom Lone, is trapped in the ingenue role. A nice-guy cop without a corrupt or cynical bone in his body, he courts Patience like something out of a romance novel, including one-on-one basketball with plenty of body contact. The only mildly original twist comes in a fight between Tom and Catwoman, whom he doesn’t recognize as the woman he just slept with, where she teasingly avoids and evades Tom while doing him no bodily harm.
The concluding catfight between Catwoman and Laurel is pretty one-sided until an eleventh-hour revelation that constant use of her company’s beauty products has turned Laurel’s skin into virtual marble, leaving her impervious to Catwoman’s blows. Even so, things end not with a bang but a meow.
Technical credits nearly overwhelm the movie as actors are treated as objects integrated with CG images to achieve Pitof’s artistic vision. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on July 23, 2004