Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Catwoman provides an antidote to 'Garfield'

The Halle Berry character is a cat person "not contained by the rules of society"-- Garfield is. Take your pick

By A. O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Catwoman achieves something I would not have thought possible. It made me think back fondly on Garfield. But perhaps that has more to do with my own feline prejudices than with the relative merits of the movies. The two of them, arriving in the same season, present a stark choice. If you like your cats fat and lazy, with a fondness for lasagna and a penchant for sarcasm, Garfield is the movie for you. If you prefer them sleek and hissing, with whips and leather lingerie, then help yourself to Catwoman. Really, though, the choice is an even simpler one, between Bill Murray and Halle Berry.

Berry plays Patience Philips, a frazzled would-be artist who designs advertisements for a big cosmetics company run by the reptilian George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his icy wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone). In the course of a frantic day, Patience tries to rescue a mysterious cat that has been stalking her and is herself saved from falling from a high window by a kindly, studly cop named Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt).

Later on, Patience overhears some deadly corporate secrets and is bumped off by the Hedares' goons, only to be revived by that enigmatic cat, who performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Patience's waterlogged body and thus endows her with super-human feline powers. Patience soon starts behaving the way that most cats do: sleeping on high shelves, tiptoeing along the back of her sofa and eating tunafish straight out of the can.

You may wonder if she also licks herself clean or leaves dead mice on the welcome mat, but these are matters the film tactfully declines to explore. She does, however, steal a motorcycle, break into a jewelry store (where a robbery is already in progress) and cut her hair using two pairs of scissors at once. Her basketball skills improve enormously.

Film Notes

Directed by: Pitof

Starring:Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy and Sharon Stone

Running time: 110 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


The explanation for all this, supplied by a zany cat lady, is that Patience has become a cat woman (which is not the same thing as a cat lady). According to the cat lady, cat women, servants of the Egyptian goddess Bast, date back to ancient times and reappear throughout history. "Cat women are not contained by the rules of society," the cat lady says. This is "both a blessing and a curse." "Accept it, child."

And why not? Directed by a Frenchman with the single, not uncatlike name of Pitof, Catwoman is a howlingly silly, moderately diverting exercise in high, pointless style. Pitof's approach to storytelling is casual; he yawns and stretches over the script, which is a pedestrian piece of committee work in any case.

But the picture, full of moody, oversaturated colors, twisty camera moves and stroboscopic editing, does have a certain decadent visual flair and a louche, sneering sense of humor. Watching it is like paging through a fat European fashion magazine at high speed in the lobby of a hotel. Through the haze of moody color, you can occasionally glimpse the flicker of an idea about female sexuality or the manufacture of beauty, but these themes are ornamental flourishes in the pretty, kinetic emptiness.

Bratt and Berry are nice to look at, though the sloppy, hyperactive computer-generated effects may cause some eyestrain. T

Their romantic scenes together are fairly dull, at least when Patience is being her everyday human self. When she puts on her mask and leather suit (accessorized with diamond-studded claws and a long, snaking whip), it's a whole different scene, and the two of them enact a teasing S-and-M ballet on a backstage catwalk.

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