REVIEW: Catwoman (Pitof, 2004)

Here's an unpopular opinion if there ever was one. In fact, of my ever-growing stock of such opinions, this may take the cake... or at least the kibble. Here it comes: Catwoman is a good movie. Yes! Talk to me on July 22nd, 2004 and I would have no doubt been blasting the feline femme for further tainting Hollywood with what looked by all evidence to be a truly embarrassing flick. On release day July 23rd, however, out of what may have been simple boredom, masochistic curiosity, that persistent drive to be 'different' or simply an unflappable attraction to Halle's Berrys, I took the plunge and happily landed on all fours.

Thirty years prior, this stimulating take on the titular comic book character might have starred the luscious Pam Grier under Jack Hill's orchestration. The blaxploitation sub-genre sputtered out long ago but its remnants feel present and contemporary here. Bubbly, easy-on-the-eyes Berry begins against type as Patience Phillips, shy people pleaser turned smart-talking dynamo. Through baiting talent and looks just as smokin' as Grier's she seems to embrace the role and all the pussycat puns that come with it. Director Pitof colorfully and energetically captures her transformation with rarely fading moxie.

Sure, certain aspects can be construed as missteps. Early on an obvious establishing shot is lazily recycled, some computer effects leave additional renders to be desired and the villains (makeup company honchos - bring on the cat-versus-animal-testing subtext) don't hesitate to ham it up on a stage only slightly above SyFy movies-of-the-week. Interestingly, as the case can be with blaxploitation and other 'B' fare, these blemishes only serve my enjoyment factor. Some people like popcorn at the movies. I happen to prefer Twizzlers. Sometimes, though, I want a big, sugar-bombed baggie of bright pink and green Sour Patch Watermelon, and Catwoman is absolutely Sour Patch Watermelon.

From a base level, we are dealing with anti-superhero material. On one paw the proceedings are not tailored toward Spider-Man's demographic. On the other, our 'hero' in question mostly uses her newfound abilities for selfish purposes before catching a streak of nobility. Perhaps most intriguing is that, yeah, we're seeing super agility and the heightened sense of a cat, but the main 'power' is that of confidence. Once instilled with this new confidence, Patience Phillips is able to break free of society's remorseless chokehold and play by her own rules - a free and empowered woman.

I won't brave the ends of the earth to defend Catwoman, but I wonder how much of its notoriously poor reputation (which won it a wildcat's share of Razzie awards, one of which Berry herself was on hand to accept) is based on negative pre-release buzz - the very buzz I contributed to before actually giving the movie a chance. It may not be purrfect, but from where I'm sitting it gets the job done nicely.

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