Ever since she made her first appearance on the old Adam West Batman television show, live-action incarnations of Catwoman have been the things fetishes and dirty dreams are made of. First it was Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt in their tight-fitting costumes and purring lines. Michelle Pfeiffer came next in Batman Returns. Decked out in leather, she was more a fantasy than a cat. Now it’s Halle Berry’s turn, taking the fantasy to the next level. Strange thing is, a good chunk of Pitof’s Catwoman touches on feminist ideals that are all but contradicted by a pair of skimpy leather pants.
Patience Phillips (Berry) is a quiet gal stuck in a job that wasn’t what she had in mind while at art school. She’s a cog in the advertising machine for a big cosmetics company with a new wonder cream coming down the pipeline. Patience plays an archetypical librarian. Shy like a mouse, wearing big, frumpy clothes, the world all but ignores her. Following a near-death experience, Patience inherits an affinity for catnip and other feline traits. She transforms into something both good and bad, starting a new life doing exactly what one of her two personas wants to do.
Catwoman feels more like a television pilot than a feature. Tackling both the origins of Catwoman, building up what her character is like and framing it all around a dark corporate secret, there’s too much happening to be developed in a mere two hours. Had it been spread over a miniseries or even over the course of a season, there would have been the opportunity to flesh out the many big ideas and story lines that are raised. Instead, many surfaces are scratched and thrown together with bad puns and bland action that feels like it exists just to get the job done than to actually say something.
I’ve got to say, there were some ideas in Catwoman that piqued my interest. The main one was an ongoing theme of ‘girl power.’ Through Patience’s transformation into Catwoman, the film conveys a message that women can do anything they want regardless of how the men around them act and feel. It’s encourages a sense of independence, pride and self worth. Twenty years ago the movie could have made quite the political splash. However, there’s also some contractions that take away a lot of the argument’s credibility. First off, there’s the two main casting choices. Berry is regarded as one of today’s most gorgeous actresses. She’s a mainstay in the tabloids and is photographed at every turn. Then there’s Sharon Stone who plays Laurel Hedare, the evil head of a cosmetics company. To this day she is remembered most for leg shift in Basic Instinct that revealed a lack of knickers. With that one film, she was vaulted to the forefront of Hollywood sexuality. Even now, the sexual power Stone harnessed in Basic Instinct sticks with her like a stigma.
To further contradict the film’s potential feminist crusade is the S&M quality of the Catwoman costume. It’s skimpy black leather, teasing the imagination as to what lies beneath the little material that is there. The costume merely highlights the fantasy element that Halle Berry, leather and a whip conjure up. So while there might have been one step forward for women’s lib, it was ultimately a horizontal one.
What began as moderately interesting quickly evolved into the ridiculous and embarrassing. I didn’t know cats could jump around walls let alone human cat-things. It reminded me of Scooby and Shaggy racing through and across hallways and popping their heads in doorways while being chased by a ghoul. There’s so many small things that build throughout the film that by the end Catwoman is only a step above complete and utter embarrassment. From corny lines, to bad cat puns to bad stunts, Catwoman is akin to kitty litter on a hot summer Sunday afternoon.