Good afternoon everybody. It is ICE to see you. I hope you are all having an ICE day. Sorry 'bout that. I'm still suffering from a Batman & Robin hangover. Goddamned that movie gets under your skin. But enough foolishness: today we're moving on from 1997's Batman & Robin, a hilariously ill-conceived, universally panned extension of the Batman universe to 2004's Catwoman, a hilariously ill-conceived, universally panned extension of the Batman universe that, to be fair, has fuck-all to do with The Batman. You know a movie is in trouble when the public says "Halle Berry crawling around in revealing leather bondage gear? No thanks. I'm sure there are Golden Girls reruns on somewhere we could watch instead."
Of course, Catwoman isn't Berry's first foray into the superhero realm. For the past seven years, she's been the weak link in the X-Men franchise. This is particularly glaring in X3, where Berry is called upon to deliver what should be the emotional linchpin of the film: Patrick Stewart's eulogy. It was supposed to a seminal moment in one of our most beloved superhero franchises, but it feels more like a clumsy afterthought. Holding an audience's rapt attention through nothing more than the power of voice is a formidable challenge for even the strongest actors. Great speeches hurl themselves into the annals of cinema history. Bad speeches have audiences staring intently at their watches and wondering what they should have for dinner. Truly gifted thespians can stand up to the unrelenting, unforgiving scrutiny of long, uninterrupted takes devoted exclusively to someone talking. So it's telling that Brett Ratner frantically cuts around Berry in a desperate effort to generate the pathos and grandeur missing from her monologue.
Now as some of you might suspect, I became a low-ranking member of my new best friend and hero Brett Ratner's entourage after my fawning, sycophantic interview with him for The A.V Club. I make him breakfast every morning, give him neck massages when he's feeling stressed out, and offer a shoulder to cry on when he's a Sad Panda. In return, I get to sleep on his couch, play Xbox on his 70-inch plasma, and bang some of his leftover skanks. I'm not the only member of his posse: there's also D, his homeboy from Miami, who at first appeared grounded and likable but now just seems like a total dick, his dumb older brother Joey Brat, and Frog, a smartass Italian guy who gets him his weed. It's a set-up not unlike a popular television show regularly derided on this site: Scrubs.
While making Ratner breakfast this morning, I had an opportunity to ask him about Berry's big X3 speech. "Oh man, Nathan. I don't know what happened. I kept telling her 'Bring da funk, bring da noise in this scene. Do it for the Brettster.' 'Do it for the Brettster' always works. How do you think I'm able to get such fluid, naturalistic performances from Jackie Chan? But she wasn't doing it for the Brettster, dammit. She wasn't bringing it at all." Ratner then began weeping like an infant. Not too many people know this, but Ratner is incredibly sensitive and sobs openly every time someone criticizes him online. I'm not too proud to admit that during times like this, I hold the Brettster in my arms until the pain goes away.
Alas, Ratner is not the super-genius behind Catwoman. That honor belongs instead to a French special effects wiz named Pitof. I must admit I have an innate prejudice against filmmakers with one name (this also holds true for Ash and Tarsem), which strikes me as both pretentious and silly. I think if Orson Welles took to billing himself "Orsowelo," I'd probably view his work with skepticism as well.
According to the IMDB (which is always right at least some of the time) Pitof apparently presented an alternate story for the film that was dubbed "too artistic." I can't help but wonder what that overly artistic take on Catwoman might be: an exploration into the Jungian nature of man filmed in real time? A Marxist socio-political allegory? Maybe something with puppets?
You'd think the filmmakers would learn from Batman & Robin, but Pitof apparently felt that the fatal flaw of Schumacher's franchise-killer wasn't that it was too dumb and campy, but rather that it wasn't dumb or campy enough. Much of Catwoman's DOA comedy comes from Alex Borstein as Berry's man-crazed sidekick. If you've ever wondered "Hey, that Alex Borstein is hilarious on Family Guy. I wonder why she doesn't get more roles?," Catwoman delivers a definitive answer. In a comic relief role that provides neither comedy nor relief, Borstein seems to be auditioning for the sassy next door neighbor role on a CW sitcom.
Pitof appears to have encouraged Borstein to improvise as much as possible. I imagine Pitof sitting in his director's chair barking "Riff! Riff to your heart's content, you zany American funny lady! Make with the merriment and tomfoolery, you crazy diamond!" To give Pitof the benefit of the doubt, it's possible he no speaka the English too good and once he found out exactly what all of Borstein's improvisations meant he was filled with regret. Wouldn't you suffer terrible remorse if you allowed each of the following Borstein lines into your film?: "That is such a good name. Tom Lone. Rhymes with comb. Phone. Bone. Not that rhyming's all that important." "Patience. That is a man in serious like with you." "Go give him some brown sugar. I've gotta go meet my hottie doctor." "Props to Sally. Lemme hear my props." "Did you ever notice that when they keep you in observation no one really observes you?"
I suspect that that last line was stolen from Andy Rooney. Borstein works with Berry at a cosmetics firm ruled by evil Eurotrash baddie Lambert Wilson and wife Sharon Stone. When Berry's timid wallflower accidentally learns that her company's new anti-aging wonder cream causes hideous facial disfigurement to people who stop using it, she's unceremoniously killed. She then gets her Lazarus on Old School after a fantastical cat breathes life into her and imbues her with all of the remarkable powers common to household cats.
Beyond trying to out-camp Batman & Robin, Catwoman boasts exactly two ideas. Firstly, its title character is super-duper-extra-sexy. Secondly, she behaves exactly like a cat. When wise, mysterious crazy cat lady/exposition specialist Frances Conroy tosses a ball of catnip at her, for example, she instinctively snatches and rubs it against her face in a queasy erotic frenzy. At a nightclub she orders a "White Russian. Hold the ice. Hold the Vodka. Hold the Kahlua." She greedily devours tin after tin of tuna and slurps down sushi rapaciously. I haven't checked out the deleted scenes, but it's possible they contain sequences involving litter-box usage and a ten-minute scene where Berry sexily plays with a ball of yarn. That isn't the full extent of Berry's cat-like qualities. In a pick-up game with handsome cop love interest Benjamin Bratt, she leaps high above the rim and indulges in all manner of Harlem Globetrotters-style showboating, leading to the following deathless exchange between Berry and Borstein: "You know how to play basketball? "Apparently I do. I even went Shaquille on his butt".
Now I love cats and I love staring at Halle Berry's cleavage, but I was thoroughly creeped out by the sexualization of cat behavior. Cats and boobs are two great things that, alas, don't go great together. Getting in touch with her inner cat liberates Berry from all her fears and anxieties and gives her the courage to go after the evil baddies who did her in.
In a classic case of comic book myopia, Bratt doesn't initially realize that the mysterious "Catwoman" wreaking havoc around town is actually a scantily-clad version of his girlfriend with a cat mask, just as folks are awfully slow to pick up on mild-mannered Clark Kent's uncanny resemblance to a prominent super-fellow. But Bratt eventually puts two and two together and Berry ends up behind bars.
Then, in what can only be hailed as the single greatest, least ridiculous plot point in the history of film, Berry escapes captivity by simply slipping through the bars of her cell. No cell can hold her and her damnably cat-like reflexes, dammit! Why don't more criminals give that a shot? In yet another blow to the film's verisimilitude, Berry very transparently morphs into a bundle of CGI pixels whenever she leaps about. Remember how distracting it was in Spider-Man when Tobey Maguire turned into a big web-slinging cartoon during big action sequences? It's ten times worse here.
Berry can't begin to compete with Michelle Pfeiffer's transcendent take on the same character. There was a tragic underpinning to Pfeiffer's performance that's missing here, even when the film takes an ill-advised dramatic turn towards the end and tries to generate pathos out of the ridiculous camp figure we've watched lick tuna straight from the can, greedily lust for catnip, and subject the world to an endless procession of cat-themed puns. Catwoman conclusively proves that those who do not learn from the mistakes of past super-heroic misfires like Batman & Robin are doomed to repeat them. There are movies that are in on the joke and then there are movies that are themselves big jokes. Catwoman falls unmistakably into the second category.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Failure .