DC's feline superheroine has graced the big screen three times now, and each time with a different alias. The woman who was Kitanya Irenya in the 1966 version of the Batman TV show and bad girl Selina Kyle in Tim Burton's Batman Returns, now becomes Patience Phillips and gets her own movie, with not a bat in sight. Patience (Halle Berry) is an ad designer for a cosmetics giant, who stumbles upon the fact that the company's new beauty cream will cause terrible long-term damage to the skin. So Patience is murdered by the company's evil bosses – but then brought back to life by the breath of an Egyptian cat that has been following her around for days. Patience is reborn as Catwoman, and takes to stalking the streets in leather, cracking a whip and trying to piece together what happened to her.
The contrast between a superhero's heroics and the life they must lead out of costume is central to many comic book adaptations. The best of these – Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, Burton's Batmans – owe a great deal of their success to a willingness to put as much emphasis on the latter as on the former, and Catwoman does at least attempt to follow this path. When we first meet Patience, she is a meek and mild loner, offering stuttering apologies to anyone she thinks needs one, and without much a life beyond her work. She's the sort of gal who'll try to rescue a stranded cat from a ledge outside her window, and who'll blush uncontrollably when asked out for coffee by hunky cop Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt). The cat powers she gains changes all this – as well as her amazing athletic and sensory abilities, there's a sassy new hair cut and figure hugging clothes, she's forward and flirty with Tom, and she don't take no shit from nobody. Patience is at first terrified by this change in her personality, but quickly comes to embrace it.
The problem here is that while Raimi and Burton proved as adept with the dramatic side of their films as with the comic book action, Catwoman is directed by an FX whiz calling himself Pitof whose hamfisted approach to the drama quickly sinks the film. Everything in Patience's life is a great big cliché, from her Bridget Jones-esque best friends to the cornball romance with Tom. Given that Tom is also – whatdyaknow! – the cop on the trail of Catwoman, Pitof and his three screenwriters completely waste the opportunity to play on the new duality of Patience's personality, or even provide some light relief as she attempts to protect her secret identity. Meanwhile, the film is given a vague historical perspective by linking Catwoman to a long line of feline-females dating back to Egyptian times, but it's never explained why Patience is chosen as the latest member of the cat club, other than the fact she, er, likes cats.
The film looks slick, expensive and completely anonymous, and Pitof directs the CGI-assisted fights scenes with the attention span of a six-year-old, cutting every few seconds in a failed attempt to conceal the fact that we've seen it all before. Halle Berry gives a spirited performance – and unsurprisingly looks great in ripped leather. But although Lambert Wilson and Sharon Stone ham it up as the husband-and-wife cosmetic villains, there's no escaping the hilarious fact that what they are threatening the world with is deadly face cream. Purr-lease.
French director born Jean-Christophe Comar. Worked as a visual effects supervisor on films like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and Alien: Resurrection and Luc Besson’s Joan of Arc, before directing the innovative digital thriller Vidocq in 2001. Made his Hollywood debut with badly-received Catwoman.