Straight to the Litter Box

Staggeringly bad filmmaking in nearly every conceivable way, it's hard to imagine a more boilerplate costumed comic-book actioner than "Catwoman," a DC Comics rip-off.

Despite the fact that Halle Berry struts around in a black leather two-piece for nearly the entire time, this is basement-level trash with a schizophrenic script that mirrors the fractured psyche of timid protagonist Patience Phillips (Berry), who is murdered by her wealthy cosmetics company employers when she stumbles (literally) upon the unholy secret of their … moisturizing cream!

Thanks to the divine intervention of an Egyptian temple cat named Midnight (and owned, if that's the right word, by "Six Feet Under" matriarch Frances Conroy), the previously demure Patience is reborn as Catwoman, a whip-cracking and wildly aggressive creature of the night with a penchant for lounging around her artfully stylized apartment gobbling Chicken o' the Sea straight from the can.

With only the barest memory of her own murder to go on, Patience/Catwoman must rediscover not only the nature of her death and rebirth, but also, apparently, how to be a smart, sassy woman of the times while running up and down walls and meowing every half hour or so.

"Catwoman" has the look and feel of a bizarre Euro-trash video game, the type conceived over several bottles of fine French Merlot and prawns, which is fitting since director Pitof ("Vidocq") handled the visual effects on Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's "Delicatessen" and "The City of Lost Children," both of which benefited from his unerring eye for bizarre detail.

Unfortunately, Pitof's directorial instincts are no match for his effects work, and so "Catwoman" dances along the edge of pure camp throughout. Sharon Stone is here as a fading glamour queen desperate to keep her looks, and the script (by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and John Rogers) has much to say about the female role in a male-dominated workplace environment.

There's a steady trickle of ham-handed nods to female empowerment as well, but ultimately the message here seems to be that women can't have their cake and eat it, too. If you're not a lusty alley cat on the prowl, you're a shell-shocked veteran of the workplace wars, mousey, mad or (briefly) dead.

Despite the fact that the title would indicate a debt to original "Catwoman" creator Bob Kane, it's Michelle Pfeiffer's role as Selena Kyle in 1992's "Batman Returns" that comes the closest; Pitof's "Catwoman" owes more to the S&M fantasies of director Jess Franco and hip-hop dancers (not to mention another inadvertently campy disaster, Paul Verhoeven's "Showgirls") than anything in the world of DC Comics.

Utterly devoid of merit, fantastic or otherwise, a more exasperating descent into the feline world than "Catwoman" is difficult to imagine.


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