''Holy Hairball, Batman! They sure choked on this Catwoman movie!''
Completely stripping Catwoman of her ''Batman'' connections, the geniuses behind this comic-book movie--at least as bad as Spider-Man 2 is good--also stripped it of any pleasure. Neither campy a la Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt of the old TV series nor sexy vamp like Michelle Pfeiffer of Batman Returns, Halle Berry's Catwoman is, well, one lost little kitty in the big city. Actually, she's Patience Philips--an annoyingly mousy graphics designer for a top cosmetics firm who, despite her job, has no fashion sensibility, no self-confidence and no boyfriend. (Yeah, riiiight!) She is befriended by a mystical Egyptian Mau cat which--courtesy of lousy digital effects--often looks disturbingly like Toonces and sounds like Linda Blair in The Exorcist when it meows; moreover, its way of befriending Patience is to lure her into a suicide attempt--one of many plot points lacking a rationale. When Patience discovers that the cosmetics firm's villainous owner (Lambert Wilson) and aging supermodel wife (Sharon Stone) are marketing a toxic, disfiguring facial cream, she is killed--flushed through a drainage system into the ocean. But here comes that darn cat, again, to revive her as she's lying in sludge and mud. Next thing she knows, she's sleeping on her apartment's bookshelf, eating tuna by the caseload, looking longingly at Jaguar hood ornaments as if they're long-lost relatives, and jumping about walls, basketball courts and whatnot faster than a speeding bullet. She also takes to wearing a pointy-eared black-leather dominatrix outfit along with too much makeup but at least no whiskers. She also starts sniffing around that foul cosmetics firm, which leads to a martial-arts showdown with Stone. What the Oscar-winning Berry doesn't do, regrettably, is get a CAT scan to see what kind of ailment convinced her to make this lamebrain movie.
I've seen better acting on 7-Eleven surveillance videos than in Catwoman. Berry is cloying in the film's early stages, when she's playing insecure, lonely Patience and she's more pathetically childlike than anything else. Once she's Catwoman, though, she's really terrible, tilting her head for endless close-ups and giving lots of wide-eyed stares meant to conjure feline curiosity but that more recall George W. Bush's ''deer-in-the-headlights'' gaze. The screenplay makes a few lame attempts to observe the duality of women in the way Patience changes to Catwoman, but it's not there in the performance. Yet Berry's turn is a career-peak gem compared to Stone, who can't decide whether to play the power-mad Laurel Hedare as a broad, cartoonish send-up or as someone connected to reality. Looking like a vampiric Susan Powter and barking sarcastic lines without a hint of emotional connection to her character, Stone is just awful. On the plot's fringes, Benjamin Bratt does his best as a police officer (gee, what else) who is both infatuated with Berry and suspects her of murder.
The one-named French director Pitof (short for ''pitoful''?) supposedly is a digital-imaging expert who has worked with City of Lost Children's Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but you'd never know it here. Either he doesn't know much about directing actors, or maybe he only gives directions in French. The effects--especially action scenes involving a digitalized version of Berry--move at such a chaotic, breakneck pace that she looks completely phony. Plus, there's absolutely no sequential logic whatsoever to where Catwoman moves and when--apparently, invisibility is one of her superpowers. These awkward, clumsy scenes are usually accompanied by distractingly loud music. Pitof's only other directing credit is some obscure French flick starring Gerard Depardieu one hopes Catwoman will be his last.
No doubt Berry will spend some time licking her wounds from the scathing reviews the film is sure to earn. Hide this Catwoman on a hot tin roof--or anywhere else no one is likely to see it. It's that bad.