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Catwoman (July 22/04)

Given that Spider-Man 2 significantly raised the bar for comic book movies, it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable to walk into Catwoman with fairly high expectations. Sure, there was the disastrous trailer which emphasized Halle Berry's ludicrous costume and penchant for incredibly lame one-liners. Yet the film was co-written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (both of whom wrote last year's surprisingly effective Terminator sequel), leaving some hope that Catwoman might be able to overcome such misguided elements. No dice (although, to be fair, the movie isn't quite as terrible as some other folks are claiming).

Berry plays Patience Phillips, a meek advertising artist who stumbles upon a dastardly plot hatched by her company and is summarily killed. She's reborn after a gang of cats bring her back to life, infusing her with super powers and a thirst for milk and cat food. As Catwoman, she becomes a vigilante of sorts - and catches the interest of detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), who just happens to be dating her alter-ego, Patience.

Catwoman marks French director Pitof's American debut, and his audacious visual style is certainly distinctive - though his reliance on CGI, particularly in the fight sequences, eventually becomes overwhelming. Along with cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, Pitof imbues the movie with a slick sheen that makes Michael Bay's work look gritty by comparison. This wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing in a better movie, but there comes a point at which it's impossible not to wish he'd just settle down already. It doesn't help that Pitof and co. have packed the film with popular musicians (one would suppose), giving Catwoman the feel of a music video (a dated music video, at that).

The movie's concept isn't necessarily a bad one - dead woman resurrected and given special gifts - but the way in which the script incorporates such elements into the story leaves a lot to be desired. Worse than that, the basic premise of the film (Patience literally becomes a cat woman) evidently wasn't exciting enough for the filmmakers, who have given the character powers far beyond that of a feline (has anyone ever known a cat that can scale walls?) Berry is adequate in the role, though she's never entirely convincing as the pre-Catwoman mousy wallflower. Bratt exudes charisma, but he's not given much to do other than chase Catwoman around (all the while failing to recognize her as his girlfriend, even though she's wearing a tiny mask).

Clichés abound in the film's script, from the characters (Patience's best friend is one of those scrappy, wisecracking sidekicks that only seem to exist in movies like this) to the plot developments (there's one scientist who suddenly develops a conscience and threatens to go public - he is, of course, quickly dispatched). It'd be unreasonable to expect pure originality out of a film like this, but Catwoman doesn't even try to approach some kind of middle ground. Comic fans looking for the next X-Men or Batman (before Joel Schumacher got his hands on it) will surely be disappointed, while Berry undoes any respect she might've had thanks to her Monster's Ball Oscar win. Skip it (a repeat viewing of Spider-Man 2 would undoubtedly be a better idea).

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