Catwoman became notorious right after its release, a film derided and despised by both public and critics alike. Many "me-ouch" and variations on "catastrophe/catastrophic" were tossed around with glee. I think those kinds of puns are tacky, but given how Catwoman ended up, they kind of fit.
Mousy Patience Phillips (Halle Berry, and no pun intended on the "mousy" bit) aspires to be a painter but is now relegated to working as an in-house advertising artist for the Hedare Corporation, which specializes in beauty products. CEO George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) is unhappy with Patience's work, though to be fair he's just a crabby person.
He's dumped his wife Laurel (Sharon Stone) as the face of Hedare after 15 years, opting for a literal younger model. This does not sit well with Laurel, but there is evil at work. The new Beau-Line beauty products have a curious side effect: they will turn the users into disfigured monsters if they stop using them.
Unfortunately for Patience, she accidentally overheard Laurel and the reluctant Dr. Slavicky (Peter Wingfield) about the Beau-Line products. As such, she is "killed", but Patience has secret allies: mystical cats who have chosen her as the new Catwoman.
Now, despite her growing romance with police officer Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), Patience must embrace her feline feminine side to stop Laurel and become the crimefighter Catwoman.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Catwoman has three credited screenwriters (John Brancato, Michael Ferris and John Rogers) with two of them having a story credit (Theresa Rebek being the third). I sense that more hands went into the script, which is cliched, unintentionally hilarious and groan-inducing. It is as if Catwoman never decided to be serious or camp.
Instead, it opted to try and straddle both sides, making for a most confused final product. You take up a lot of screen time with Patience's wacky BFF Sally (Alex Borstein) but she comes across as grating and irrelevant to the plot.
The fact that "Beau-Line" is pronounced at least two different ways but the second word is never pronounced as "lyne" but as "leen" is one of the lesser oddball elements.
You have seen this "kill the woman who ends up coming back as Catwoman" in Batman Returns, and I'm astonished no one commented on the similarity. That Catwoman wants to be separate from the Batman mythos makes this all the more strange.
One of Catwoman's greatest issues story-wise is that it gives Patience very little time to build up from this shrinking violet to frisky vixen. Trying to tie her in to a long line of vixens kind of just sits there. To be fair though, poor Halle Berry clearly does her best with what she is given. We see this when Catwoman and Laurel have their final confrontation: at one point Berry puts her hands up like paws as Laurel is beating her with a pole.
I do not question Berry's commitment to the role. She again was given a pretty thankless job and worked her behind off to make any of this work. Berry, however, was doomed from the start by things outside her control. Her costume was tawdry, not slinky. It would be something better suited to a furry dominatrix.
Her director, billed as "Pitof" (Jean-Christophe Comar) was probably the worst choice to helm what was meant as a major action film/franchise starter. For reasons unclear the producers gave the directing job to a man who had made only one film prior to Catwoman and whose said sole film was in French. Even that could be forgiven if not for some of the performances.
Benjamin Bratt looked utterly bored, even at times drugged throughout. He has no connection with Berry in what are meant as love scenes, and after getting shot, Lone seems more confused than in pain. Despite being shot however, he is still able to, later on, punch out a few hitmen, so I'm curious to understand that.
Lone also has to be among the dumbest cops in history. At a robbery crime scene, we see a box of cupcakes and a note reading "Sorry" prominently displayed. Yet it takes what appear to be hours if not days for him to see that the "Sorry" matches the same "Sorry" Patience wrote on a coffee cup that she sent him after missing a date. Her feline agility when saving a kid from a crazed Ferris wheel (already a silly set up) again seems to escape him.
Stone probably thought she was in another film altogether, closer to the campy 1966 Batman than the darker 1989 Batman. She vamps it up to the Nth degree, refusing to take any situation seriously. It's almost admirable how crazed it comes across, even if the end result is laughable.
Catwoman also has some ghastly visual effects that make Catwoman clearly animated. I think it also does not help matters when Pitof appears more fixated on showcasing Halle Berry's ass than on I figure more important matters.
I think Catwoman is a terrible film, but I did not end up hating it. Rather, I felt almost sorry for everyone and everything revolving around Catwoman. I am, however, surprised that Catwoman is not a cult film, one where audiences can laugh together at people trying desperately to make things good and failing spectacularly.
Cats can land on their feet. Catwoman just fell on her face.