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The Scotsman
Thu 12 Aug 2004
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Catwoman Catatonia

Starring: Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Sharon Stone

HALLE BERRY in a catsuit: how bad can it be? Well, very bad, actually. Pungently, painfully bad. Not since I died during a matinee screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have I experienced a film with such a flagrant disregard for the intelligence of its audience. And that’s being hard on ol’ Ferris.

The good things first. The ears. Halle’s cat ears are very good, although they aren’t particularly feline. There’s an element of elongation in their shape that isn’t strictly catty. But then, Hyenawoman isn’t as bankable a concept. (Though I’d pay money to see Alpaca Girl.)

If you took the ears and attached them to another actress, it’s possible that Catwoman would be a good idea. Michelle Pfeiffer looked quite alluring when she donned the PVC dominatrix uniform in one of the less awful Batman movies, so it can be done. The problem, then, is toothsome Miss Berry. With the possible exception of Catherine Zeta-Jones Douglas, she is the least alluring sex symbol in Hollywood. Berry is a big smile and a pair of black eyes, but that doesn’t make her Eartha Kitt. As a cheerleader for the Milk Marketing Board she would be a blast. As a tigress with a whip and a need to dominate, she barely registers. But it’s not all Halle’s fault. The story is a stinker too.

To summarise: mousy girl working for evil cosmetics company is murdered when she discovers that their new cold cream makes ladies’ faces fall off. On drowning, she is given the kiss of life by a friendly moggy, and is reborn as a good time gal with a taste for sushi and a habit of jumping balletically from tables. Unfortunately, she also takes up cat burgling, which makes her burgeoning romance with a lovely policeman somewhat problematic. Will the nice copper discover her secret before she can save the world from an outbreak of dermatological disharmony? And if so, will he calculate that it’s worth it to have Halle Berry leaving scratch marks on his back?

But, hey, let’s back up a bit. The woman-as-cat is an old idea, and it can be quite alluring. There exists a whole generation of inadequate men, of which I am a proud member, which has yet to recover from the sight of Nastassja Kinski chained to her bed in Cat People. In the 1960s, when Batman was a camp fatty in a bulging bodystocking, Catwoman was a shapely sidekick who never quite managed to outshine the boyish charms of young Robin.

Back then, adaptations of comic books were as camp as the Batcape was tent-like. These days, the best cinematic adaptations of comics are the Spider-Man films, in which the advent of superpowers is used as a metaphor for adolescence. Spidey is a boy who can’t get the girl, and the fact that he can shoot sticky web with a flick of the wrist is scant consolation.

Catwoman, after she has undergone the change, becomes a decaffeinated version of Grace Jones, but the direction of the film has all the artistry and visual dexterity of that rum commercial starring another Jones - Vinnie. The tale’s notion of female emancipation has more to do with Ginger Spice than Germaine Greer. When she is liberated from her dubious fashion sense and her "consistently ordinary" life, Patience (get it?) becomes that most liberated of things, a male fantasy in bondage gear. This is handy, as it allows her to rob jewellery stores and deal with noisy neighbours. There is much waffle and hokum about the "duality of all women". Apparently, they are "nurturing yet ferocious". Catwomen, meanwhile: "are not contained by the rules of society. You follow your own desires. This is a blessing and a curse."

There has to be a nemesis, so Sharon Stone is allowed to add another blot to her already speckled CV as Laurel Hedare, the outdated face of the evil cosmetics corporation whose cold cream is about to napalm the female population. Stone acts as if she has donated her body to cryogenic research and forgotten to close the fridge door. She barely moves, and her face is bathed in white light, in case she should look her age.

Benjamin Bratt (the handsome detective from Law and Order) gets to play a handsome detective, and Frances Conroy (the eccentric old lady from Six Feet Under) is an eccentric old lady. Without wishing to dispel the suspense, the conclusion is a catfight between Halle Berry and Sharon Stone, which must have been somebody’s idea of a mucky good time. But then, some fantasies are best kept secret. A hairball and a half.
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