Catwoman

Cast:
Halle Berry as Patience Phillips/Catwoman
Benjamin Bratt as Tom Lone
Sharon Stone as Laurel Hedare
Lambert Wilson as George Hedare
Frances Conroy as Ophelia
Alex Borstein as Sally
Michael Massee as Armando
Byron Mann as Wesley
Kim Smith as Drina
Christopher Heyerdahl as Rocker
Peter Wingfield as Dr. Ivan Slavicky
Berend McKenzie as Lance

Story:
Patience Phillips begins the movie as a soft spoken, demure former art student who works as an advertising agent for the Hedare cosmetics company. When she accidentally discovers the toxic side effects of their upcoming beauty product, they try to silence her by flushing her into the sea with their industrial waste. Fate has other plans for her; through the intercession of a rare and ancient breed of cat, she’s brought back to life and granted feline attributes, principally reflexes and speed. Soon, she takes charge of her life and starts hunting down those responsible for her murder. When the police detective she’s dating investigates the crimes of Catwoman, her life becomes a delicate tightrope walk as she struggles to keep her two identities separate.

Critique:
This was loosely based on the DC Comics character Catwoman, though they seem to have cribbed her origin a bit from Catwoman’s previous film incarnation in Batman Returns, where she’s also killed and brought back to life by cats. Comics purists won’t be pleased that they changed the character’s name from Selina Kyle to Patience Phillips, or that they moved the setting away from Gotham City, but these criticisms won’t bother the average moviegoer.

Even as it begins, the film immediately tries to establish the suspension of disbelief to help the audience accept the title character. They fill the opening credits with interesting renditions of historical catwomen from around the world, as though to create a legacy for this Catwoman. And though they don’t explore it in detail within the story, they use it to help the character come to terms with what’s happened to her.

Additionally, there are small moments that utilize the character’s transformation to Catwoman; cute ideas, such as they way she eats, sleeps, her reaction to catnip.

Alex Borstein stands out among the cast as Halle Berry’s cheerful coworker Sally. Halle Berry herself is actually more likable as Patience Phillips than she is as Catwoman. Patience has vulnerability, and Berry clearly has fun with her lively apologies. She’s also the only persona that can deal with Catwoman as an alternate personality, and Patience has some good moments terrified of her own mental illness.

Catwoman herself is more of a one note character, combining her aggressive sexuality with violence and an irritating self-righteousness which makes her unapproachable except as a revenge fantasy.

Frances Conroy’s crazy cat lady Ophelia is the driving force behind Catwoman’s rejection of societal conventions. She seems eager to live vicariously through Catwoman, due to her past as a professor who was denied tenure as much for being a woman as for her wild theories regarding catwomen. And although her theories are borne out within the world of the film, she apparently forgot that professors aren’t supposed to act like crazy people until after they’ve secured tenure.

The film’s villain, an evil cosmetics company, is actually a loose stand in for the typical action movie’s drug running operation. Their product, a debilitating beauty cream, is described as addictive. Its users must get their fix, or else, basically, their faces melt. As a former employee, Catwoman has a direct connection to the company, which neatly ties the movie together. This way, she doesn’t have to search for someone to fight.

Hip hop and dance dominate the soundtrack, which is fine if you like that sort of thing. It neither adds much to the movie, nor takes anything away.

In general, the movie hinges on a message of female empowerment. Unfortunately, they tend to undermine their own purpose a little by making the principal antagonist another woman. Perhaps their intent was to hold up Catwoman and Sharon Stone’s Laurel Hedare as opposing examples of empowered women, although if that’s the case, they have achieved, at best, mixed results.

Having self confidence is one thing, but Catwoman commits burglaries and constantly assaults people, whether they deserve it or not. Add in the sleazy leather bondage outfit and it’s hard to regard her as a role model. The most she can even say for herself is “I might not be a hero, but I’m certainly not a killer.” Most of us can say the same.

On the other hand, Laurel is ambitious, intelligent, and successful, and understandably upset at being cast aside by her husband and company due to her advancing age. Except for being conveniently evil, she’s sympathetic in her own right. Her intelligence unfortunately extends only so far as the plot allows, since there’s no obvious reason why she would confess her crimes to the police at the vaguest suggestion of bribery when she could just as easily deny everything and let her lawyers do the heavy lifting.

Summary:
Ultimately, anyone prepared for a fetish revenge flick might enjoy this movie. Despite its message of female empowerment, the film’s emphasis is sex and violence, so if that’s what you want, this is the place to find it. But, ticket prices being what they are, I’d still recommend holding off until it hits dollar theaters.

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