If “Catwoman” isn’t the worst superhero movie so far, it is certainly the stupidest. It uses every cliche in the genre, and even borrows some from other genres, like the Romantic Comedy Law of Girlfriends, which states that the female lead must have a portlier, wackier girlfriend whose primary interest is her (the lead’s) love life; and the Crime Drama Law of Cop Conservation, which holds that even major cities have only one police detective, and he is on hand at every crime committed within his jurisdiction.
“Catwoman,” based on the DC Comic character who originated in the Batman universe, is an absurd movie about a skittish woman named Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) who, after falling to her death in a river, is resurrected by a squad of mystic cats and subsequently has all the powers of a cat. For example, she is suddenly very good at basketball — you know, the way cats are — and she can climb up walls and stick to them — you know, the way cats do.
Patience is an advertising artist for Hedare, a huge line of popular cosmetics run by the Hedares, a cold married couple named George (Lambert Wilson) and Laurel (Sharon Stone). It is the Hedares who are responsible for Patience’s death; after she accidentally overhears that the company’s eagerly awaited new product, Beau-line, is toxic, the only way to keep her quiet is to kill her, obviously.
Once revived, Patience is surprised to find herself more agile, more nimble and more fond of fish than she used to be. She also has flashes of confidence, aggression and sass, qualities the old Patience never exhibited. Plus, now she craps in a sandbox. (Not really. I kid the catwoman!)
Dressed in a leather dominatrix outfit that, yeah, OK, I guess sort of looks like a cat, she begins committing and/or stopping crimes in the dark of night, drawing the attention of Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), the aforementioned solitary police detective in whatever city this is, whom Patience already had dealings with prior to her catamorphosis. Catwoman becomes a hero of the underwold, justice is sought against the Hedare evil-doers, and Catwoman becomes a suspect when one of their associates turns up dead.
Somewhere in all this “I am Catwoman, hear me meow” business is a fascinating study of feminism and the dual roles women are expected to play — naughty in the bedroom but demure in public, and so forth. But the movie has no idea how to deal with any of its more thoughtful topics, nor even how to handle its superficial ones: Is this movie supposed to be funny, dark, serious, or what?
There are a few lines of dialogue that are clearly MEANT to be campy-funny, but then there are others that were meant to be taken seriously that are campy-funny anyway. The director, a French film editor and special-effects supervisor named Pitof, hasn’t a clue how to treat the material, and the tone is all over the place.
The overall effect is stupefaction: How did one movie become so disoriented and foolish? How did they think audiences would react to this? Why make a movie in which the heroine is only occasionally heroic and very often dull? Does a character in this movie really wear makeup that makes her impervious to pain? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!
The performances are generally over-the-top, especially Sharon Stone, who I like so much but who makes the worst decisions of any woman in Hollywood. Well, except maybe for Halle Berry, whose commitment to her ludicrous role in this movie is admirable but embarrassing.
I’ve never cared much for cats anyway, but “Catwoman” clinches it. Next time I see one, I’m going to kick it into the river.
D+ (1 hr., 41 min.; )