Poor Halle Berry. She coulda been a worthy contender to uphold the Catwoman standards of Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer. She’s beautiful, sleek, sexy, and smart. She can act up a storm, as her Oscar-winning performance in Monster’s Ball proved. And, until she put on that ridiculous leather outfit in Catwoman, I was convinced she would win me over as a new feline superhero.
We’ll get to the movie itself later, but Berry’s costume must be dealt with right away. Was it designed by the Marquis de Sade? It certainly looks like something a dominatrix would wear. Yes, it reveals lots of Berry’s gorgeous skin, but it’s not nearly as fetching as the form-fitting costume worn by other actresses in this role. And what’s that on her head – an ugly black swimming cap? Maybe I’m being too catty, but Berry looks like a hooker at a Halloween party whenever she dons her Catwoman duds.
Fortunately, a good part of the movie takes place before that catastrophe happens. In the early part of the film, Berry displays her acting chops by earning our sympathy as Patience Phillips, a shy ad artist, who finds out the cosmetics company she works for is planning to release a face cream that will destroy a woman’s skin when she stops using it. Because Patience knows too much, she’s murdered. But not to worry. A mysterious cat she once tried to save breathes life back into her mouth -- and our heroine is reborn as the powerful and deadly Catwoman.
It takes a while for Patience to realize what happened, so Berry’s performance continues to draw us in as her character notices the changes in her own behavior. She reacts addictively to catnip, eats lots of tuna, sleeps on shelves and jumps around her apartment on top of all the furniture. Berry has all the catlike moves down pat in these scenes. And then, she puts on that dreadful costume. Okay, I know by this time Patience is supposed to be a kind of Jekyll/Hyde character. But the costume evokes embarrassed laughter and interferes with Berry’s ability to nail the “bad girl” elements of Patience’s new personality. A disjointed screenplay (which cries out for a more humorous approach) also hampers this aspect of the movie.
To be fair, even when she’s Catwoman, Patience isn’t completely bad. She steals jewels, then returns them. Her revenge against the evil cosmetic executives (Sharon Stone and Lambert Wilson) helps save womankind from horrible disfiguration. She falls for a handsome detective (Benjamin Bratt) and assists him in solving a case – despite the fact he's arrested her as the main suspect. “I’m only as bad as I want to be,” boasts Catwoman.
Clearly, this is not Batman’s Catwoman. Patience Phillips has her own story, her own freedom. Too bad she doesn’t have a decent thing to wear.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for action violence and some sensuality.)