Point of Origin Warner Brothers Studios
Passage Via Berry, Halle
Hollywood loves it some super hero stories. But this was an example so bad that you would be fine in thinking the studios have contempt for that source material, and outright hostility towards audiences. And hatred of character development, content, and/or story structure, for that matter. They certainly seemed to have been spayed from logic.
In 2003 Warner Brothers possessed a Batman franchise that dovetailed into an embarrassment of riches. The two installments from Joel Schumacher had been underwhelming and widely ridiculed so the studio looked to reinvigorate the franchise. They decided to spin off this character to generate passion for their upcoming relaunch of the Bat enterprise. Instead this resulted in such a resolute fiasco that it is a small wonder Christopher Nolan’s first installment garnered any positive reaction. At one point this production looked to be unraveling and the studio toyed with cancellation and inserting Halle Berry in cat suit for Batman Begins. This was such a glaring mistake that fans of the beloved anti-heroine refer to this film as CINO – Catwoman In Name Only – and she would not resurface until Nolan’s third Batman iteration, The Dark Knight Rises.
The advance word on the film revealed a misfiring production. Announcing that Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry would fill out the Cat suit was widely reported and you could practically hear the studio say, “. . . And the rest will write itself!” The revealing, dominatrix-style costume was teased out in the media, and press releases declared a daring selection for director – a French film maker with the solitary name of Pitof. Coming from a special effects background Pitof’s lone credit as a director was the effects-laden European miasma Vidocq. Initial trailers for the film were ridiculed and they were quickly pulled in favor of new, action-heavy previews. The real sign of trouble: the lack of attention on story.
This is deeply ironic considering the amount of scribes leaving fingerprints on the screenplay. Starting with a spec script in 1995 by Daniel Waters (Batman Returns), the story was funneled through numerous rewrites, with Pitof even turning in one version. Over two dozen names claimed work on the script and the Writers Guild of America finally had to declare the final credits on the film. This is remarkable since this film is heavy on action and ridiculous dialogue, absent character development, and so overly reliant on montages and interludes that the shooting script might be ten pages in length. There is no real storyline, just plot points. The film, choked with CGI, not only resembles a video game in appearance but also in structure. Scenes arrive not out of necessity but by rote; it feels like you’ve achieved the next skill-level.
They also failed at the super-hero concept. Whether a supernal-gifted individual, or a wealth-blessed billionaire, these heroes are called in to deal with a scourge beyond the scope of conventional crime fighters. Catwoman fails to give us this menace. The main villain is impotent – a cosmetics firm with a flawed product. This concerns only one half of the population but once you factor competition, market reach, and demographics they probably would reach 4% of the world’s population. Not quite the global domination we expect from our comic villains. This seems to be an issue more for The Better Business Bureau.
A lengthy credit sequence gives us feline imagery over the eons before we get a very Bourne Identity opening. Not to imply similarity of quality, simply that we have a protagonist floating in the water. In voice over we get introduced not to Salina Kyle, but Patience Phillips (Berry).
- It all started on the day that I died. But there was no obituary, because the day that I died, was also — the day that I started to live.
Well that’s just poor planning on her part! We flashback to Phillips walking up to her job at Hedare Cosmetics Corp., which seems to employ more people than attend an average Philadelphia Flyers game. Patience bumps into a dozen or so people en route to her job as a graphic designer, where she is a shy, mousy worker drone. In the next cubicle is Sally, (Alex Borstein, Family Guy), the movie’s comic relief, who delivers no comedy and her performance requires headache relief.
Meanwhile in the corporate boardroom George Hedare is announcing the release of their new beauty cream, Beau-line. He declares it is the most exciting and revolutionary product in the industry since soap. The presentation is interrupted by his wife Laurel, played with histrionics by Sharon Stone. Laurel announces that for the new product she will step down as the face of Hedare, making way for the next super-model, with whom George is philandering. Since Beau-line is touted for reversing aging effects it makes zero sense using a spokes model barely out of puberty, instead of Laurel. Then again, this IS a film selling us Sharon Stone with a butch haircut as ravishing, and that Halle Berry is an ugly-duckling.
Patience arrives and is told to revamp her artwork by midnight the next day. While working at her apartment a cat wanders through the window, scales the building, and requires Patience climb onto the ledge to retrieve it. A hunky cop named Tom (Benjamin Bratt) happens by and mistakes her attempted rescue as a suicide attempt. He races upstairs and catches her just before falling, and Patience shows her gratitude by rushing off to work. Tom stops by the office to bring her the wallet she dropped and ask her out, while suffering through harassment from Sally.
Her work completed Patience has to basically break into Hedare corporate to meet her deadline. Sneaking through the research lab she stumbles over details about deleterious side-effects. Beau-line is highly addictive, plus stopping treatment will cause women to appear like burn victims. Laurel commands they push forward with the release, deciding anyone becoming disfigured will need to keep using the product, which combined with the addictive properties means huge sales figures. Lawsuits and the FDA be damned!
Patience overhears the dastardly plans and soon security is hunting her through the bowels of the company. They chase her through offices, warehouses, and steam-pipe areas before she takes refuge in the waste removal system. Here we see that Pitof has closely adhered to Hollywood’s “Shaft-Illumination-Code”, which requires all tunnels, air vents, pipes and sewers be wonderfully well lit.
As she looks for an exit Security seals the pipe and decides to flush her out. Cue a majestic computer generated visual of sewage blasting her into the bay, taking us to the floating introduction. Patience washes up on a sludge pile where a fake cat bellows and a squadron of wild cats approaches. The alpha-cat creeps up and leans in to her lifeless face, breathing out a gust that alters her pupils. Why it needed to call up the other cats to do this made no sense, but I was contemplating how feline halitosis — laden with the fermented aromas of salmon, curdled milk, and rat entrails — can somehow become a mystical life-force.
Patience stumbles home where, despite showing us her apartment at a death-inducing height, we see her break into a window about ten feet up from the alley. She finds she became imbued with heightened vision, acute hearing, and is prone now to sleeping on the top shelf. We’ll also see her fearing the rain, hissing at dogs, and devouring tuna and sushi — there is no exploration of her converting the bathtub into a litter box. The same cat returns to her window and an address on his collar leads her to a woman with two dozen felines. Patience goes inside to absorb wisdom, making her the only person on the planet willing to listen to the crazy cat-lady in their neighborhood. Before leaving the woman tosses her a ball of catnip, and her reaction to it is a sign!
Patience is fired for not delivering her design work and she displays a bold personality while telling off Hedare. Next she goes to apologize to Tom, having missed their date due to death, giving him a coffee cup with “Sorry” written on it. They have a playground basketball square-off that feels every bit a copy from Ben Affleck’s Daredevil and Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. It speaks volumes this movie would lift from that ridiculed title. Patience deals with her changes, like walking on top of her furniture, when she is inspired to confront the unruly neighbor who holds late-night parties. She breaks in, sprays his musical equipment down, and discovers she can use the beer line from the keg like a whip. Newly empowered Patience dresses up in leather, cuts her hair, and applies hooker makeup. This transformation is not on par with the emergence of Peter Parker.
Now tarted up Patience discovers a jewelry store robbery so she foils the crooks with her new skills, however she awakens the next morning with the loot. This is another aspect of her cat-like existence; forgetting details of the night before. This film poses as a female empowerment tale, but I’m not sure blackouts and waking up with regrets is the kind of positive message to send to young women. She returns to sneak the swag back at the scene, with “Sorry” written on the bag.
Her next step is to track down the security agent who killed her, now in her sexually aggressive costume. She follows him into a nightclub situated next to a shipping container yard, and in her regalia she orders a white Russian – “No ice, hold the vodka, hold the Kahlua.” Confronted the guard tips her off about the problem with Beau-line so she returns to Hedare, discovering the lead scientist dead. She is spotted standing over the body, yadda-yadda, mysterious cat lady is on the news, wanted for murder. Meanwhile Tom makes a discovery. The “Sorry” written on the jewelry bag resembles what Patience wrote — this because he kept her coffee cup on a shelf as a memento, like any normal, emotionally stable individual. He takes them to a handwriting expert with state-of-the-art handwriting analysis software who states the writing was done by two distinct individuals. Get that? Two people with contradictory personalities combined to write a solitary word, and on two separate occasions — and neither cop questions that conclusion.
Tom and Patience next have a date at a carnival where they ride the most dangerous Ferris wheel in amusement park history. First they become stuck at the top, and next the gears start to strip on the drive train. Tom climbs down to heroically stop the machine. Meanwhile a boy in another bucket watches his safety bar failing, AND THEN the anchors to his bucket also break free. (The Ferris family may want to sue Warners for defamation.) Patience nimbly scales the framework to save the lad just in time, leading to a bonding moment with her cop.
That night C.W. breaks into the Hedare mansion to confront George but instead is set upon by the Missus, leading to a brief catfight. (Shakes head). Laurel lets her know the hubby is at a ballet, where she next confronts George in his balcony seats before she leaps from security on to the stage.
She climbs into the rafters where Tom is on scene for some reason. They square off on the catwalks (shakes head) in playful confrontation with suggestive banter filled by out-uendo and single-entendre. She rescues Tom from falling, giving him a lascivious kiss on the cheek while escaping. Back home George and Laurel have a panicked discussion now that he’s been made aware Catwoman knows about the Beau-line problems. He slaps Laurel and actually hurts his hand on her face due to the effects Beau-line had on her face. Not just a spokes model, Laurel is also a client!
After a night in bed together Tom takes a glass Patience used and brings it to work. Evidence technicians run comparative analysis on the smudge and the partial lipstick stain Catwoman left on Tom’s cheek. From those trace pieces of residue smears they decipher with 99.9% certainty they are from the same woman. This after two handwriting samples of the exact same word which were identical came back inconclusive.
That night Catwoman returns to the Hedare mansion where Laurel has murdered the sniveling husband, and she becomes framed a second time. Tom ends up arresting Patience as a result – and is he the only detective on the force?! I mean this guy worked the jewelry heist, the murder scene, the investigation of the company, as well as the security at the ballet. He’ll probably be declared Amusement Park Ride Inspector next. Patience has to breakout in order to clear her name, and she does so as any cat would; she slips between the bars in her cell.
The rest unspools in pedantic fashion. Tom is convinced of Patience’s innocence, he becomes shot by Laurel, Catwoman rescues him from Laurel, there is a final conflict, and the villain plunges about 75 stories to her death. This thing wraps up with me wondering how many lives I’ve just lost. And that is the takeaway from such a dismal production. After getting pummeled by nonsense and lousy cat-puns for all this time you become reduced, lowered down to its level.
How would I best describe this film? I’d say this is nothing more than a Pitof crap you would find in a litter box.
Status of Passage APPROVED