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MOVIE REVIEW
'Catwoman' adaptation
timid, strays from source


July 29, 2004
By Franklin Harris

There was a minor controversy prior to the opening of the first "Spider-Man" movie. Would the filmmakers give proper credit to Spider-Man's creators, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko? As it turns out, longtime Spider-Man fans had nothing to worry about. Lee and Ditko's names appeared prominently in the opening credits.

Halle Berry is a walking fashion faux pas in ''Catwoman.''
Copyright © Warner Brothers
Halle Berry is a walking fashion faux pas in "Catwoman."
There was no such furor surrounding "Catwoman," which duly notes that it is based on characters created by Bob Kane. Or maybe that is the controversy, because the character in the film bears only a passing resemblance to the one Kane imagined — or even to the character in the 1960s "Batman" TV show and the 1992 film "Batman Returns."

This Catwoman is not a jewel thief named Selena Kyle. She has never sparred with Batman. And she wouldn't know fashion sense if Mr. Blackwell slapped her with a purple leotard.

Halle Berry plays Patience Phillips, a timid, put-upon commercial artist for a cosmetics company. The name Patience is a joke, see? Because she meekly absorbs the abuse hurled her way by her slimy boss, George Hedare (Lambert Wilson).

Hedare's company is preparing to launch a new skin cream, one that promises to reverse the effects of aging. There is just one small problem: Prolonged use of the cream gives you lizard skin, unless you continue using it forever. Well, that's one way to ensure brand loyalty.

At this point, most cosmetics firms would go back to the drawing board, but then there wouldn't be a movie. So, Hedare's wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone), orders that distribution of the cream go ahead as planned. And when Patience inadvertently discovers the plot, she ends up dead. After all, she knows too much.

Luckily, Patience has caught the eye of a mystical Egyptian cat, which literally breaths life back into her and, in the process, gives her catlike superpowers and a taste for tuna.

Do you see how silly the plot is when I type it all down? Then why didn't the screenwriters notice? Maybe they thought they were writing a comedy or an homage to silly 1950s comic books but forgot to let anyone else in on the joke.

In addition to a new lease on life, Patience has a new personality. Becoming part cat has relaxed her inhibitions. Or that's the idea, anyway. Despite repeated talk of how Patience is now a "bad girl," Catwoman never does anything really bad. Sure, at one point she steals some jewels, but the next morning she feels guilty and returns them.

Grand larceny wouldn't have weighed on Selena Kyle's conscience for a second.

But Patience must have a naughty side. Otherwise there would be nothing to complicate her budding romance with police detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt, basically playing his "Law & Order" character).

When she isn't flirting with Detective Lone, Patience is seeking justice and revenge as Catwoman. For some reason, this means she must dress like a dominatrix posing for a Cat Fancy magazine centerfold. If Cat Fancy had centerfolds, that is.

The comic-book Catwoman never wore anything so ridiculous as the ripped-leather costume in which Berry struts her stuff, and I suspect Berry knows it. Whenever she is in costume, her performance goes off to camp.

Even a gifted director couldn't make "Catwoman" work. Unfortunately, "Catwoman" doesn't have a gifted director. It has French filmmaker Pitof, who turns it into something resembling a feature-length cosmetics commercial, filled with dizzying cuts and extreme close-ups. Perhaps he thought he was being clever.

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