One of the hassles of a four-star rating system for movie reviews is that at first glance it can appear to put an enjoyably bad movie on equal footing with a really good one -- case in point, this week's two big studio releases.
Inventive, original and packed with uncommonly intelligent action, "The Bourne Supremacy" is an example of a great three-star movie -- one that I toyed with giving another half-star, but while it's on the "great" end of "good," it didn't quite cross the threshold into "extraordinary." (I hope that makes some kind of sense.)
But "Catwoman" is a whole different kind of three-star movie -- one so blundering, so badly written, so ripped to shreds by the actors chewing the scenery, so pretentiously self-serious, and yet seemingly aware of its own off-the-charts camp value -- that it is wildly entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons.
Halle Berry prowls, hisses, struts and scratches her way through this lavishly over-produced riff on Batman's kinkiest nemesis, in which the title character is not a Gotham villainess but just one of a string of women throughout history given special feline powers by cats descended from ancient Egyptian animal gods.
A mousy gal in badly mismatched outfits, Patience Philips (Berry) is a graphic designer for a cosmetics conglomerate that is about to launch a miracle anti-aging beauty cream with horrible hidden side-effects -- a fact she inadvertently discovers, leading to her untimely death at the hands of company henchmen, and her resurrection at the paws of an Egyptian puss with magical halitosis (or at least misty green breath).
Patience uses her newfound abilities to become a hip-swinging vamp in shredded leather and a cat mask, seeking vengeance and finding her feline half has side-effects of its own, not the least of which are an addictive vulnerability to catnip, a distracting weak spot for shiny objects (mesmerized by a necklace, she breaks into a high-end jewelry boutique) and a tendency to lick people, like Benjamin Bratt as a handsome Mr. Wonderful -- a charming cop seeking to capture Catwoman, but who still has the time to help inner-city children.
Meanwhile, the cosmetics company's nefarious husband-and-wife CEOs (greasy Frenchman Lambert Wilson and a deliciously over-the-top, platinum-butch Sharon Stone), plot to unleash their product on an unsuspecting world in which FDA approval is something easily dismissed with a few lines of absurd exposition.
Although occasionally funny on purpose, "Catwoman" has so many hallmarks of unintentional high camp that they become impossible to ignore: dialogue so ungainly that its talented actors come off looking like a Roger Corman troupe, a laughable lack of chemistry between the romantic leads, low-rent CGI super-power F/X, telegraphed comic-relief stereotypes (including a distastefully screaming-queen, "you go girl!" homosexual) and a director who takes himself so seriously that he goes by only one name -- Pitof.
But for Z-movie cachet, you can't beat "Catwoman's" preposterous catfight climax, in which Berry trades cartwheel kicks and laughably bad barbs ("Game over!" begets "Guess what? It's overtime!") with Stone, who may have finally found her career-comeback calling card as a larger-than-life queen bitch. It's just a pity this Pitof fellow (previously a French second-unit man for Luc Besson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet) lets the fight scene's incongruous R&B soundtrack run roughshod over his big silly finish, turning the movie into a bad music video for the third or fourth time.
Topping off the unintentional humor is the fact that "Catwoman," in which the stunningly gorgeous (and allegedly surgeon-sculpted) Berry slinks around half-naked most of the time, genuinely tries to say something about our culture's over-valuing of youth and beauty.
So although it confounds me to give any movie three stars specifically for being awful, my rule for this rating is a "solid recommend," and the fact is, there's a great time to be had at "Catwoman" -- just bring lots of popcorn to throw at the screen.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 23rd July 2004
Box Office USA: $40.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $82.1M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: DC Comics, Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 9%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 174
IMDB: 3.3 / 10
Starring: Halle Berry as Patience Phillips, 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